“Do Not Sin Against the Child.”
“And Reuben answered them, saying, Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear? therefore, behold, also his blood is required.” — Genesis 42:22.
You know how Joseph’s brethren, through envy, sold him into Egypt; and how ultimately they were themselves compelled to go down into Egypt to buy corn. When they were treated roughly by the governor of that country, whom they did not know to be their brother, their consciences smote them, and they said one to another, “We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of the soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.” While their consciences were thus accusing them, the voice of their elder brother chimed in, saying, “Said I not unto you, Do not sin against the child?” From which I gather that, if we commit sin after being warned, the voice of conscience will be all the more condemning, for it will be supported by the memory of disregarded admonitions, which will revive again, and with solemn voices say to us, “Said we not unto you, Do not sin against the child?” We who know what is due to children will so far more guilty than others if we sin against their souls. Wiser views as to the needs and hopes of the little ones are now abroad in the world than those which ruled the public mind fifty years ago, and we shall be doubly criminal if now we bring evil upon the little ones.
The advice of Reuben may well be given to all grown-up persons, “Do not sin against the child.” Thus would I speak to every parent, to every elder brother or sister, to every schoolmaster, to every employer, to every man and woman, whether they have families or not, “Do not sin against the child:” neither against your own child, nor against anybody’s child, nor against the poor waif of the street whom they call “nobody’s child.” If you sin against adults, “do not sin against the child.” If a man must be profane, let him have too much reverence for a child to pollute its little ear with blasphemy. If a man must drink, let him have too much respect for childhood to entice his boy to sip at the intoxicating cup. If there be aught of lewdness or coarseness on. foot, screen the young child from the sight and hearing of it. O ye parents, do not follow trades which will ruin your children, do not select houses where they will be cast into evil society, do not bring depraved persons within your doors to defile them! For a man, to lead others like himself into temptation is bad enough; but to sow the vile seed of vice in hearts that are* as yet untainted by any gross, actual sin, is a hideous piece of wickedness. Do not commit spiritual infanticide. For God’s sake, in the name of common humanity, I pray yon, if you have any sort of feeling left, do not play the Herod by morally murdering the innocents. I have heard that when, in the cruel sack of a city, a soldier was about to kill a child, his hand was stayed by the little one’s crying out, “O sir, please don’t kill me; I am so little!” The feebleness and littleness of childhood should appeal to the worst of men, and restrain them from sinning against- the child.
According to the story of Joseph, there are three ways of sinning against the child. The first was contained in the proposition of the envious brothers, “Let us slay him, . . . and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” “Shed no blood,” said Reuben, who had reasons of his own for wishing to save Joseph’s life. There is such a thing as morally and spiritually slaying boys and girls, and here even the Reubens unite with us; even those who are not so good as they should be will join in the earnest protest, “Do not sin against the child,” — do not train him. in dishonesty, lying, drunkenness, and vice. No one among us would wish to do so, but it is continually done by bad example. Many sons are ruined by their fathers. Those who gave them birth give them their death. They brought them into the world of sin, and they seem intent to bring them into the world of punishment, and will succeed in the fearful attempt unless the grace of God shall interfere. Many are doing all they can, be their own conduct at home and abroad, to educate their offspring into pests of society and plagues to their country. When I see the number of juvenile criminals, I cannot help asking, “Who slew all these?” and it is sad to have for an answer, “These are mostly the victims of their parents’ sin.” The fiercest beasts of prey will not destroy their own young, but sin makes men unnatural, so that they destroy their offspring’s souls without thought. To teach a child a lascivious song is unutterably wicked; to introduce him to the wine cup is evil. To take children to places of amusement where everything is polluting, — where the quick-witted boy soon spies out vice, and learns to be precocious in it; where the girl, while sitting to see the play, has kindled within her passions which need no fuel, — to do this is to act the tempter’s part. Would you poison young hearts, and do them lifelong mischief? I wish that the guardians of public morals would put down all open impurity; but if that cannot be, at least let the young be shielded. He who instructs a youth in the vices of the world is a despicable wretch, a panderer for the devil, for whom contempt is a feeling too lenient. No, even though thou art thyself of all men most hardened, there can be no need to worry the lambs, and offer the babes before the shrine of Moloch.
The same evil may be committed by indoctrinating children with evil teachings. They learn so soon that it is a sad thing to teach them error. It is a dreadful thing when the infidel father sneers at the cross of Christ in the presence of his boy, when he utters horrible things against our blessed Lord in the hearing of tender youth. It is sad to the last degree that those who have been singing holy hymns in the Sabbath-school should go home to hear God blasphemed, and to see holy things spit upon and despised. To the very worst unbelievers we might well say, — Do not thus ruin your child’s immortal soul; if you are yourself resolved to perish, do not drag your child downward too.
But there is a second way of sinning against the child, of which Reuben’s own proposition may serve as an illustration. Though not with a bad motive, Reuben said, “Cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness, and lay no hand upon him.” The idea of many is to leave the child as a child, and then look him up in after days, and seek to deliver him from destruction. Do not kill him, but leave him alone till riper years. Do not kill him, that would be wicked murder; but leave him in the wilderness till a more convenient season, when, like Reuben, you hope to come to his rescue. Upon this point I shall touch many more than upon the first. Many professing Christians ignore the multitudes of children around them, and act as if there were no such living beings. They may go to Sunday-school or not; they do not know, and do not care. At any rate, these good people cannot trouble themselves with teaching children. I would earnestly say, “Do not sin against the child by such neglect.” “No,” says Reuben, “we will look after him when he is a man. He is in the pit now, but we are in hopes of getting him out afterwards.” That is the common notion, — that the children are to grow up unconverted, and that they are to be saved in after life. They are to be left in the pit now, and to be drawn out by-and-by. This pernicious notion is sinning against the child. No word of Holy Scripture gives countenance to such a policy of delay and neglect. Neither nature nor grace pleads for it. It was the complaint of Jeremiah, “Even the sea monsters draw out the breast, they give suck to their young ones: the daughter of my people is become cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness.” Let not such a charge lie against any one of us. Our design and object should be that our children, while they are yet children, should be brought to Christ; and I ask those dear brothers and sisters here present who love the Lord not to doubt about the conversion of their little ones, but to seek it at once with all their hearts. Why should our Josephs remain in the pit of nature’s corruption? Let us pray the Lord at once to take them up out of the horrible pit, and- save them with a great salvation.
There is yet a third way of sinning against the child, which plan was actually tried upon Joseph: they sold him, — sold him to the Midianite merchantmen. They offered twenty pieces of silver for him, and his brothers readily handed him over for that reward. I am afraid that some are half inclined to do the same now. It is imagined that, now we have School-boards, we shall not want Sabbath-schools so much, but may give over the young to the Secularists. Because the children are to be taught the multiplication table, they will not need to be taught the fear of the Lord! Strange reasoning this! Can geography teach them the way to heaven, or arithmetic remove their countless sins? The more of secular knowledge our juveniles acquire, the more will they need to be taught in the fear of the Lord. To leave our youthful population in the hands of secular teachers will be to sell them to the Ishmaelites. Nor is it less perilous to leave them to the seductive arts of Ritualists and Papists. We who love the gospel must not let the children slip through our hands into the power of those who would enslave their minds by superstitious dogmas. We sin against the child if we hand it over to teachers of error.
The same selling of the young Josephs can be effected by looking only to their worldly interests, and forgetting their souls. A great many parents sell their children by putting them out as apprentices to men of no character, or by placing them in situations where ungodliness is the paramount influence. Frequently, the father does not ask where the boy can go on the Sabbath-day, and the mother does not enquire whether her girl can hear the gospel when she gets out; but good wages are looked after, and not much else. They count themselves very staunch if they draw a line at Roman Catholics, but worldliness and even profligacy are not reckoned as barriers in many cases. How many there are of those who call themselves Christians who sell their daughters in marriage to rich men! The men have no religion whatever, but “it is a splendid match, “because they move in high society. Young men and women are put into the matrimonial market, and disposed of to the highest bidder: God is not thought of in the matter. Thus the rich depart from the Lord, and curse their children quite as much as the poor. I am sure you would not literally sell your offspring for slaves, and yet to sell their souls is by no means less abominable. “Do not sin against the child.” Do not sell him to the Ishmaeilites. “Ah!” say you, “the money is always handy.” Will you take the price of blood? Shall the blood of your children’s souls be on your skirts? I pray you, pause awhile ere you do this.
Sometimes, a child may be sinned against because he is disliked. The excuse for undue harshness and severity is, “He is such a strange child!” You have heard of the cygnet that was hatched in a duck’s nest. Neither duck, nor drake, nor ducklings could make anything out of the ugly bird; and yet, in truth, it was superior to all the rest. Joseph was the swan in Jacob’s nest, and his brothers and even his father did not understand him. His father rebuked him and said, “Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?” He was not understood by his own kin. I should fancy that he was a most uncomfortable boy to live with, for, when his elder brothers transgressed, he felt bound to bring unto his father “their evil report.” I doubt not that they called him “a little sneak”, though, indeed, he was a gracious child. His dreams also were very odd, and considerably provoking, for he was always the hero of them. His brothers called him “this dreamer”, and evidently thought him to be a mere fool. He was his father’s pet boy, and this made him even more obnoxious to the other sons. Yet that very child, who was so despised by his brothers, was the Joseph among them. History repeats itself, and the difference in your child, which now causes him to be pecked at, may perhaps arise from a superiority which as yet has not found its sphere; at any rate, “do not sin against the child” because he is singular, for he may rise to special distinction. Do not, of course, show him partiality, and make him a coat of many colours; because, if you do, his brothers will have some excuse for their envy; but, on the other hand, do not suffer him to be snubbed, and do not allow his spirit to be crushed.
I have known some who, when they have met with a little Joseph, have sinned against him by foolish flattery. The boy has said something rather good, and then they have set him upon the table so that everybody might see him, and admire what he had to say, while he was coaxed into repeating his sage observations. Thus the child was made self-conceited, forward, and pert. Children who are much exhibited are usually spoiled in the operation. I think I hear the proud parents say, “Now do see — do see what a wonderful boy my Harry is!” Yes, I do see; I do see what a wonderful stupid his mother is. I do see how unwise his father is to expose his boy to such peril. Do not sin against the child by fostering his pride, which, as it is an ill weed, will grow apace of itself.
In many cases, the sin is of quite the opposite character. Contemptuous sneers have chilled many a good desire, and ridicule has nipped in the bud many a sincere purpose. Beware of checking youthful enthusiasm for good, things. God forbid that you or I should quench one tiny spark of grace in a lad’s heart, or destroy a single bud of promise! We believe in the piety of children; lot us never speak, or act, or look as if we despised it.
“ Do not sin against the child,” whoever you may be. Whether you are teacher or parent, take care that, if there is any trace of the little Joseph in your child, erven though it be but in his dreams, you do not sin against him by attempting to repress the noble flame which God may be kindling in his soul. I cannot just now mention the many, many ways in which we may be offending against one of the Lord’s little ones; but I would have you recollect that, if the Lord’s love should light upon your boy, and he should grow up to be a distinguished servant of the Lord, your conscience will prick you, and a voice will say in your soul, “Said I not unto you, Do not sin against the child?” And if, on the other hand, your child should not become a Joseph, but an Absalom, it will be a horrible thing to be compelled to mingle with your lamentations the overwhelming consciousness that you led your child into the sin by which he became the dishonour of your family. If I see my child perish, and know that he becomes a reprobate through my ill teaching and example, I shall have to wring my hands with dread remorse and cry, “I slew my child! I slew my child! and when I did it, I knew better, but I disregarded the voice which said to me, ‘Do not sin against the child.’”
Now, dear Sunday-school teachers, I will mention one or two matters which concern you. “Do not sin against the child” by coming to your class with a chilly heart. Why should you make your children cold towards divine things? Do not sin against them by coming too late, for that will make them think that punctuality is not a virtue, and that the Sunday-school is of no very great importance. “Do not sin against the child ” by coming irregularly, and absenting yourself on the smallest pretence, for that is distinctly saying to the child, “You can neglect to serve God when you please, for you see that this is what I do.” “Do not sin against the child” by merely going through class routine, without really teaching and instructing. That is the shadow of Sunday-school teaching, and not the substance, and it is in some respects worse than nothing. “Do not sin against the child” by merely telling him a number of stories without setting forth the Saviour, for that will be giving him a stone instead of bread. “Do not sin against the child” by aiming at anything short of his conversion to God through Jesus Christ the Saviour.
And then, you parents, “do not sin against the child by being so very soon angry. I have frequently heard grown-up people repeat that verse, “Children, obey your parents in all things.” It is a very proper text, — a very proper text, and boys and girls should carefully attend to it. I like to hear fathers and mothers preach from it; but there is that other one, you know; there is that other one, “Likewise, ye fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.” Do not pick up every little thing against a good child, and throw it in his or her teeth, and say, “Ah, if you were a Christian child, you would not do this and you would not do that!” I am not so sure about that; you who are heads of families do a great many wrong things yourselves, and yet I hope you are Christians; and if your father in heaven were sometimes to be as severe with you as you are with the sincere little ones when you are out of temper, I am afraid it would1 go very hard with you. Be gentle, and kind, and tender, and loving.
At the same time, do not sin against any child by over-indulgence. Spoiled children are like spoiled fruit, the less we see of them the better. In some families, the master of the house is the youngest boy, though he is not yet big enough to wear knickerbockers. He manages his mother, and his mother, of course, manages his father, and so, in that way, he rules the whole house. This is unwise, unnatural, and highly perilous to the pampered child. Keep boys and girls in proper subjection, for they cannot be happy themselves, nor can you be so, unless they are in their places. Do not water your young plants either with vinegar or with syrup. Neither use too much nor too little of rebuke. Seek wisdom of the Lord, and keep the middle of the way.
In a word, “do not sin against the child,” but train it in the way it should go, and bring it to Jesus that he may bless it. Cease not to pray for the child till his young heart is given to the Lord. May the Holy Spirit make you wise to deal with these young immortals! Like plastic clay, they are on the wheel. Oh, that he would teach us how to mould and fashion their characters! Above all, may he put his own hand to the work, and them it will be done indeed!
THUS Reuben reminded his brethren of his admonition concerning Joseph would I address you with regard to your own children. I thought it meet, beloved friends, as our friend Mr. Hammond is coming among us to labor for the conversion of the young, that I should as it were, this morning, deliver the preface to his series of services. Perhaps by enlisting the consideration and the affectionate prayers of God’s people for the young, I may be doing more to help my friend in his work than it would be possible for me to do by any other means.
Note the words of the text. “Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child?” The essence of sin lies in its being committed against God. When men are fully convinced that they have disobeyed the Lord, and that this is “the head and front of their offending,” then they are brought to a true perception of the character of sin. Hence David’s penitential psalm has for its acutest cry, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight.” Yet the sword of sin cuts both ways, it not only contends against God but against his creatures too. It is a double evil. Like a bursting shell, it scatters evil on every side. Every relationship which we sustain involves duty, and consequently, may be perverted into an occasion for sin. We are no sooner in this world than, as children, we sin against our parents; as members of a family we sin against brothers and sisters; and against playmates and acquaintances. We launch into the outside world, and around our barque sins dash like raging billows. As our various relations are multiplied, our sins increase also: we sin against a husband or against a wife, against a servant or against a master, against a buyer or a seller. On all sides the roots of our soul suck up sin from the earth in which they spread. We sin in public and sin in private, sin against our poverty and against our wealth. Our evil nature, like the deadly upas tree, distils its venom-the poison of sin, drops on all who come under our shadow. As the sea surrounds all shores, so sin beats with deadly waves upon all connected with our life. Our hundred-banded sin assails both heaven and earth, time and eternity, great and small, old men and children.
The text calls us to consider one particular form of sin, namely, sinning against a child, and it is of that I intend to speak this morning, looking up to the great Father of spirits that he would teach me to speak aright. First, what is this which has been spoken to us? “Do not sin against the child.” Secondly, who said it? And, thirdly, what then
- First-and this will occupy most of our time this morning-WHAT IS THIS WHICH HAS BEEN SAID TO US? “Do not sin against the child.”
This warning may be suitable for every one of us without exception, for those who are not parents, and who are not teachers of the young, are nevertheless bound to remember that they are in a commonwealth of which young people make up a very considerable part. Little eyes are so quick to observe the actions of those who are grown up, that adults should be careful what they do. Every man, by his own conduct, is, more or less, educating the rising generation of the nation. If a man acteth amiss, if his speech be foul, if his conversation be polluted, he helps to educate children in the school of Belial. If, on the other hand, his ways are right, and by the grace of God he is made to act morally and to speak truthfully, he is doing something, unconsciously it may be, but still he is doing something to train up one for virtue and holiness. The exhalations of our moral conduct sweeten or defile the general atmosphere of society, and in this children, as well as others, are partakers. I would say to every man who is giving full swing to his passions, if nothing else will check you, at any rate pause awhile when yonder fair-haired girls and lisping children are gazing upon you. If you care not for angels, stop for the sake of you blue-eyed boy. Let not the leprosy of your sin pollute your offspring more than must be. Were you about to utter a lascivious sentence? Withhold it, I pray you, for it is not meet that little ears should so soon be desecrated by that which has become common enough to you, but will as yet be shocking to them. Were you about to blaspheme? Is it not enough to curse your Maker? Why need you bring a second curse upon that harmless little one? Why teach those lips that will be alt too ready to learn to speak the hideous word? Man, if any feeling be left to you, respect the purity of childhood, and let the presence of youth, if it be not a motive for sanctity, at any rate be a reason for restraint in open sin. Do not sin cruelly and wantonly against the child.
But I would not merely put it in a light which may suit the vilest. You, dear friend, whoever you may be, owe a service to your neighbor. You are to love him as yourself-and that word “neighbor” includes all mankind: the bond of the command is not limited to those who are over one-and-twenty, and have assumed the responsibilities of manhood; when God wrote this law, he meant it to take in the whole sweep of our race. The religion of Christ is a religion of love to manhood as such: it bids us regard the babe upon its mother’s knee as well as the grey beard leaning upon his staff-to all it speaks of love to all. You are bound, therefore, by the universal law, to have a love towards children; and, as in the first place, you are to refrain from doing or saying anything which would injure their morals for this life, so are you bound, as much as lieth in you, to do all you can to train them by your own example for excellence and happiness in the path of right. I put forth God’s claim and man’s claim, this morning, to all of you, a claim from which you cannot escape by any pretense whatever, a claim which cannot be forgotten without sin. We are all uner obligations, both to old and young, to rich and poor, and specially I urge the claims of those who as yet cannot speak for themselves. To each and every child you are under an obligation as a member of the great human family, as a citizen in one great kingdom, to do nothing which may injure, and everything which may promote, his future welfare. I summon before you all the host who gather at their mothers’ knees, and beseech you by the bowels of humanity not to drag these little ones down to hell.
To the parent the text speaks with a still small voice, to which I trust none of us will be deaf. “Do not sin against the child”-against your own dear child! Yet how many parents do so! If as I now speak, unconverted parents will be compelled to acknowledge the truthfulness of the accusations I shall lay against them, I hope they will be led to deep and true repentance. There are many parents who neglect altogether the religious education of their children. Were their children born without souls, they could not be more indifferent to their welfare than they now are. If it were revealed to them that their little ones when they slept in their coffins would be as the offspring of dogs and horses, which have no hereafter, they could not treat them in a more thoughtless fashion than they now do. Why, are there not many of you who, when you have sent your children to the Sunday school, think you have done all that is to be done for them; and even if this little be neglected, you are content. You never prayed for your babes-how can you? You do not know yet what it is to pray for yourselves in sincerity and truth; you never pointed your Samuels and Hannahs to the “ Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” How should you? Your own sin lies upon you unforgiven! You have never instructed the dear little ones in the danger of rebellion against God, and in the necessity of being reconciled to him through faith in the precious blood of Christ-how can we expect you to do this while you yourselves remain aliens and strangers to the blessed God, and have not submitted yourselves to the gospel of Jesus Christ? I remember a woman who was converted at an advanced age, who had been left years before a widow with many children; she was a most exemplary, moral, and industrious woman, and earning her living by most laborious work, she yet managed to bring up all her family, and settle them in a suitable manner; but after her conversion I think I never saw more bitter tears than those which she shed when she said, “ I took care to feed them and clothe their bodies, but I never thought of their souls. Alas! for me, I knew no better; but alas! for them, I left the chief thing undone. The other day I spoke to my eldest son about the things of God, and he told me religion was all a farce, he did not regard a word I said; and well,” said she, “might he be an infidel when his mother never said a word by which he could have been led to be a believer.” Words were spoken by way of comfort to her, but like Rachel she refused to be comforted, because she said, and said truly, her great opportunity had been thrown away. The best time of effort for a mother had been allowed to pass away unused. Her harvest was passed, and her summer was ended, and her children were not saved Some of you who are now godless, may I trust, be brought to the same repentance; but I would have you saved so bitter regret by being led now to give your hearts to Christ while yet your children are about you.
In speaking to parents, I put the charge in the mildest terms, and have said that some have done nothing to train their families for the Savior, but graver accusations may be brought. Are there not some here who have done much the other way, much to quench the motions of the Spirit in the juvenile mind, much to harden the children’s hearts and to lull their consciences to sleep? It is a disgraceful fact that many fathers educate their children for the service of Satan. They are the devil’s lacqueys, introducing their sons into the courts of the Evil One. When parents take their children to the theater, what can they expect to be the result? When they send them to the beer shop, or let them see their drunkenness, what surer school of vice can they send them to? Parents who teach their children to sing the silly, frivolous, and perhaps licentious songs, are sacrificing them to Moloch. Shame is it when from a father’s lips the boy hears the first oath, and learns the alphabet of blasphemy. There are crowds of parents upon whose head the blood of their children will certainly descend, because they have launched them on the sea of life with the rudder set towards the rocks, with a false chart, a deceitful compass, and every other appliance for securing eternal shipwreck. Doubtless there are some here, unconverted men and women, whose example has already come home to them in the ungrateful conduct of their sons. They have seen their children grow up to be estranged from them; and if they are therefore blaming the providence of God, let them pause awhile and ask themselves whether they ought not rather to blame themselves-are they not reaping according to their sowing? What are our children for the most part but what we make them by our training? and if they have grown up like ourselves, and our faults are mirrored in their characters, let us repent in dust and ashes before God, had never think it a hard law that our sins against our children should recoil upon ourselves. Fathers and mothers who sin against your children, I fear you will be lost yourselves; but ere that doom overtakes you, I pray you remember that you will not perish alone in your iniquity, your household will suffer with you. If you have no care about your own souls, yet think I pray you of the little ones entrusted to you. You have some in heaven whom sovereign mercy has caught away from the cradle and the breast, that they may sing the praises of God for ever; I cannot bear to think that you should drag the others down to the pit of hell! For your own sake, for their sake, pause awhile, murder not your own flesh and blood; repent of your own personal sins, and seek mercy at the hands of Jesus that you may henceforth never more sin against the child.
If these things come home forcibly to you who are unsaved, much more to Christian parents! Do Christian parents ever sin against their children? We answer, Christian parents are not perfect. They are vet in the body, and have yet to mourn over sins and shortcomings. And so, not condemning you who fear God-for who shall condemn whom Christ has justified?-yet let me, for the awakening of your con- sciences, and to drive you again to the blood of Jesus for pardon, remind you that we, alas! too often do sin against our children. We are under a double responsibility, not only because they are our children, but because God has given us salvation. We are bound, having the light, to give that light to all around us, but bound by other ties to give the light first to those who have sprung of our loins. If we deny our most loving efforts to our own households, we must surely be inhuman. Not only may we not talk of grace, we can scarcely boast of fulfilling the promptings of nature itself, if we have no compassion for our children’s souls. Yet what think you, may not our inconsistencies be the reason why our children are not converted? May the boy never have been compelled to say, “My father hardly believes what he says, or else he could not act as he does”? Do you not think that in many families, where the parents are worldly and conformed to the world, it would be a great wonder if the sons and daughters were not ungodly? Are there not many Christians so busy about making money, that they have no time to speak about soul concerns to their children? and if those children were to die, do you think those parents could excuse themselves? If their children died without hope, how would their parents quiet their consciences? Do we as a rule pray for our own children as we ought? Do we wrestle with God for them night and day? Do we ever spend an hour, say, in pleading with the Most High that they might live in his sight? And if we have prayed, do we use such efforts for our children as dying beds will make us wish that we had used? Have we spoken personally to them about their salvation? Having done it once, have we repeated it? If we fear that we have not touched the right chord of the heart, have we made up our minds to persevere in affectionate admonitions and earnest entreaties until every one of them shall be saved? I know that some of you have done so; I rejoice in sonic fathers and mothers in this congregation that they do lay themselves out for the conversion of their children, and of these I may also add that, for the most part, they have seen the desire of their hearts. But where there has been no desire, and no prayer, and no effort, if the children die unsaved, what balm can heal the mother’s wounds? O you have been baptized into Christ, and profess to have put on Christ; o you who claim to love your Lord and Master, what shall we say to you, if your sons shall be unchastened like those of Eli, and shall therefore die in their sins? If your sons turn out to be Nadabs and Abihas and not Samuels, how can we console you if you have not wept over them? If they rebel like Absalom, who can wonder, if their father never poured out his heart before the Lord on their account? Do you expect to reap without sowing, or to gather where you have not strawed? Parental care can alone preserve household piety, and if that be gone, the pillars of the nation are removed. It is an ill day for any church when family piety is on the decline. Household religion has been the great defense of England against Popery. Do not tell me of your state paid clergy and their lofty prelates-give me family prayer, and the Pope may curse away as long as he likes. Give us the open catechism, and the children made to understand it; give us the Bible read from day to day, and godly parents inculcating gospel truths upon their little ones’ minds, and we may laugh to scorn all the powers of Pope or devil. But once let the family altar be forsaken, and let parents forget the natural duty of ordering their households before the Lord, and you may guard the church as you will, your labor will be vain; you have cast down her hedges the bear out of the wood shall waste her; you have taken away the tower of the flock, and when the wolf cometh he will find the sheep an easy prey. Christian parents, though I cannot address you this morning as I would, yet with all my heart would I say to you, do not sin against the child by your ill example or by your negligence as to his salvation, but seek of the Holy Spirit that to your own offspring you may fully discharge the solemn duties which providence and grace have thrown upon you.
The text has a word next to teachers, teachers especially of our Sunday schools, though I hold that teachers of week-day schools, ought not to consider themselves exempted from seeking the good of the souls entrusted to them. Teachers of Sabbath schools, you have voluntarily assumed a position, the responsibility of which is not to be laid aside so long as you continue in the office. I beseech you, do not sin against the child. He comes to you this afternoon to learn something weighty and of eternal consequence, do not be dull and uninteresting, do not talk to him of unimportant matters, do not be cold and sleepy over your work, but tell him of Jesus lovingly, simply, earnestly. Do not lead him to feel that you have yourself no faith in what you teach. Be so earnest that he may see conviction gleaming from your eye, and may soon in return feel it flashing into his heart. Remember, other teachers have been prayerful over their children; they have brought their boys and girls to Jesus, and have won a blessing from the Master- will not you be prayerful too? If not, it were better for those children that you had never been born, and that some better teacher had been set over them. Do not sin against the child therefore by cumbering the ground and occupying a place which might have been far more profitably filled by a more earnest spirit. In the weekday do not sin against the child by conduct inconsistent with your profession. Do not sin against the child by neglecting him during the six days if you have opportunities for visitation. Seek his good at all times, follow him with your prayers and tears if you cannot with your personal visits and loving words. As God giveth you opportunity, let importunate entreaties and fervent prayers go together-entreaties to him and prayers to God-and who knoweth God shall give you his soul as a seal to your faithful ministry! Teacher, do not sin against the child by failure in anything to which conscience calls you. I am afraid in looking back upon our own Sunday school experience, some of us will have to acknowledge that we did sin against the children a great deal, that we made our class rather a school for teaching reading and repeating texts and singing hymns, than an occasion for aiming at heart renewal and immediate salvation. By the way, let me say while I am speaking to teachers, the word is equally applicable to some of you who are not teachers, but ought to be. In many of our churches the work of teaching the young is left to the very youngest-and advanced Christians usually decline the service. Is this as it should be? I take it that for this work the church ought to send forth her picked men, and if any of you have ability for the teaching of youth, and are not using the talent, you are sinning against the child quite as much as if you undertook the work and did not perform it thoroughly. There have schools in this neighborhood languishing for lack of teachers. We have letters constantly sent to us, “Can you not send us help?” and it is a crying shame that in a neighborhood so blessed with the gospel there should be any Sunday school pining for want of teachers to instruct the children. I am told that in some schools, near this Tabernacle, there are sometimes fifty or a hundred children without teachers. I charge you, men and women who know Christ, while such spheres are before you, do not stand back from them, lest it be charged upon you in the day of judgment concerning these little ones, that ye withheld from them the bread of life, and left them to die in the dark.
The text further bears with equal severity upon the preacher. I feel it chides and chastens me. Preaching is fall often too obscure for children; the words are too long, the sentences too involved, the matter too mysterious. Well might the sermon be styled, like matrimony in the prayer-book, “an excellent mystery.” I believe I have as much as most of my brethren, sought out simple words, and many dear children have heard the word from me and have been profited, while many others of them delight to come to the Tabernacle to listen to the minister. Still, we who occupy the pulpit do not feed the lambs as we should do. We should give them not merely a word now and then, but if possible the whole discourse should be such as they can understand. Sacred simplicity should be so cultivated by the ambassador of Christ, that lads and lasses should hear intelligently under a good shepherd, and the least lamb should be able to find food. Is it always so with ministers? I have my confessions to make, and some of my brethren, if they are ever awakened to a sense of sin about the matter, will have even longer confessions to offer, since in our pulpits we do too often sin against the child.
But we must push on. I want the church of God, and especially this church, to attend carefully to the next few remarks. When teachers and others are earnest about the conversion of children, and some of them are converted, they then come into relationship with the church, and too often the Lord’s people need the advice, “Do not sin against the child.” How can a church so offend? It can do so by not believing in the conversion of children at all. I am persuaded there are hundreds of Christians who in their hearts altogether mistrust the worth of regeneration, unless the party born again is over sixteen or eighteen years of age; if the inmost thoughts of many professors could be spoken, it would be seen that they are at once suspicious of a conversion if the convert is only thirteen years of age, and yet would cheerfully endorse the same conversion if the person were thirty or seventy. There is a sad respect of persons among us still; a lingering belief that a certain period of years spent in sin must have elapsed before a work can be commenced. And yet if you were to think, the conversion of a child is in itself no more difficult than the conversion of a full-grown man. With God all things are possible, and if it were right to compare two equally divine works, it should seem to be an easier thing to renew the child than the man. There is less of the dire force of habit to overcome, there is less to forget, less to repent of. Though there be nothing spiritually good in us by nature, yet there is a certain simplicity about the child, and readiness of belief, and absence of cautiousness and questioning, which is exceedingly helpful in receiving the truth. Where two things are both impossible, except with God, we may draw comparisons. I should really say that the conversion of the child appears to be the simpler work of the two, and how then we have come to imagine it not to be so I can scarcely tell. Surely that same Holy Ghost who can enter into the man of seventy, and overcome his sin, and make him to become like a little child, can enter also into the child, and overcome his natural depravity, and make him willing in the day of God’s power, and lead him to faith in Jesus. If salvation had to do with mysterious doctrines hard to be understood, if to be a Christian one needed to comprehend the Hebrew and the Greek languages, we might admit the difficulty of the conversion of little children; but if it be all so simple that he that runs may read, and he that reads may still continue to run, if it be all so plain as to be nothing more than this, “He that believeth in the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved,” why not a child as capable of faith as a man, and why may it not be as probable that we may see numbers of children converted to God as that numbers of adults may give in their adhesion to the faith? Get rid of this base idea then, lest you be found sinning against the child. God can save children. He has saved many, he has proved to his unbelieving church the greatness of his power towards the little ones. Thrust out the thought then, and expect from this day that God will save the children as well as others.
Having believed that their conversion is possible, when you hear of it be willing to believe it is so. I do not ask of children that they should be received into the church without examination; I do not claim for a youngster who declares that he is a believer in Christ, that he should be received into the church with any less rigorous examination any adult; all I do ask is that he should not be tormented with needless suspicions, and looked upon as an impostor. Brethren, it would be very greatly sinning against children if the moment their little susceptible minds were made to feel terror on account of sin, we should put that down as repentance; or the moment they felt some joy at the thought of the love of Christ, we should assure them that they possessed faith. This would be to educate them in self-deception. We should not look to find in the young more than in the old; but so far as faith and repentance are concerned, we must require quite as much. I mean that the same repentance which is needful in an adult in order to salvation, is indispensable in a child; and the faith of God’s elect is the same faith in the youth as in the grey headed man. Nothing short of real repentance and true faith in Christ can save anybody, and there is no difference in age at all in that respect. We ought, therefore, to expect in a child a sincere hatred of sin, a true sense of its evil, a conviction that he cannot save himself, and a simple reliance upon the work of Jesus which we expect in any other convert; less than this will leave young or old short of eternal life. Many say, “ We must hope for the best, and we must not expect too much of a child;” but I reply, we should do that child most serious injury if we taught him to be satisfied with that which is unsatisfactory, and to rest anywhere but in the Lord Jesus. We must expect as much, but what I plead for is, we must not expect more; for I am sure that there are some ministers and church members who discourage at once any profession of faith from boys and girls. “Oh! yes,” they say, “it is the morning cloud and the early dew; it will soon pass away.” They utter sharp and hard things which, if the devil wanted instruments would be the very ones to grieve tender hearts. They put on such frowns, and give themselves such lofty airs, that humble, timid children, shrink back and are to the church for many a day perhaps kept outside her pale. Let us judge them righteously, but let us not judge them censoriously. Let us be willing to receive them to baptism, and to the Lord’s-table, and when they are received, instead of thinking of them as though they were less valuable than other members, let us count them to be the very pride of the flock. I hate to hear people say, “They have received a pack of children into the church.” “A pack of children,” yes, and if Jesus carries them in his bosom, surely you are not imitating Christ, nor exhibiting much of his spirit when you look down upon them and despise them. To me one soul is as good as another. I rejoice as much, in the addition of the poorest mechanic to this church, as if he were a peer of the realm; I am as grateful to God when I hear of repentance in the young as in the aged, for souls’ after all are not affected in value by rank or age. Immortal spirits are all priceless, and not to be weighed in the scale with worlds. I pray you therefore rejoice if the Spirit of God dwells in the lowly or in the great in the young or in the old. He is the selfsame Spirit, he makes each renewed person equally his temple, and each saved one is equally a jewel of Christ, dear to the heart of the Eternal Father, beloved by him who redeemed all his people alike with his most precious blood. Let us not therefore as a church sin against the child.
- WHO SAYS THIS TO US?
Nature says it first. The instincts of humanity cry, “Do not sin against the child. It is but a child; it is little; sin not against it.” In the sacking of a town, in one of the old bloodthirsty wars, a soldier seized a little child, and was about to kill him in very wantonness, when the little one cried oat, “O sir, don’t kill me, sir, I am so little.” The appeal saved his life. For the same reason, hurt not your child or teach it ill; it is so little, and it is withal so trustful, that it is treason to lead it astray. Be careful how you behave towards a soul, which reposes in you so implicitly. Do not sin against the child. It is your own; you gave it birth. You see your own features in its smiling face. Will you lead your own child to hell? Will you be the destroyer of your own offspring? You love it; your heart overflows with affection to your child. Let grace turn the streams of affection in the channel of wisdom, that the immortal nature of your child may receive the benefit.
Experience adds its voice to Nature, “Do not sin against the child.” Hundreds of parents have been brought with sorrow to the grave through the natural result of their own failures and trespasses in reference to their children. They taught the lesson of sin, and the children, having learned it, practiced it upon their parents. If you would not stuff your pillow with thorns, do not sin against the child. Experience teaches us, too, from its brighter side, the excellence of holy behavior in the household. How often parents have had the reward of well educating their children-how the father has leaned when he has grown weak upon the son’s strong shoulder, and the mother has found her dearest comfort upon earth in the daughter whom she had trained for Christ! Experience saith, for your own sakes, lest you nurse an adder into your bosom, sin not against the child; and for your own sake, that, as arrows are in the hands of a mighty man, so may your sons and daughters be in after life, sin not against the child.
Conscience repeats the same advice; that inward monitor ceases not to remind us of what is due to God and to his peculiar charge, the weak and feeble. Conscience tells us plainly that we must not sport with responsibilities so vast. “Take this child and nurse it for me,” said the daughter of Pharaoh to Moses’ mother, “and I will give thee thy wages;” and even so every babe that is cast into our lap by providence is put there for the selfsame reason, that we may train it for God, and obtain a reward of grace at the last.
The church adds her voice to that of conscience. “Do not sin against the child,” for the children are the church’s hope. Bring them to Christ, that he may put his hands upon them and bless them, that they may become the future teachers and preachers, the pillars and defense of Christ’s church below. Though some of us have lived but a few years in this world, we have lived long enough to see some of our most esteemed nonconforming families seduced by various motives into communion with the world’s religion and the world’s church. The mystery is not at all difficult to solve. The parents grew rich, and though they were still among us, they were not of us; pride separated them in spirit and their sons and daughters were introduced into other society than could be found amongst the humbler followers of Jesus-to such fashionable company they became united; and now the descendants of Dissenters are amongst the fiercest revilers of our holy faith. Better far were it for us to see our children carried to their graves as infants, to be mourned over with the resignation which a sure hope begetteth, than that they should live to forsake the Lord God of their fathers, and to pull down what their fathers built up. That the sons of the Puritans should degenerate into Cavaliers, that the sturdy Protestant family should be led away with Puseyism, that the godly sire should be followed by a reckless son, is most deplorable, but so it has been in all generations, and so it will be still while parents sin against the child. God himself, speaking from the excellent glory, this morning, saith to each one of his servants here, “Do not sin against the child,” and I ask that if no other voice be heard, we may all bow before his glorious majesty, and ask for grace to be willing and obedient.
III. Thirdly, having heard the message, WHAT THEN? Only two things.
Does not that exhortation startle some of the unconverted and unawakened here? I think if I were as you are, sir, if I had lived to be sixty years of age, and my son had died through drunkenness, or my daughter were at this time living a godless life, and I were unconverted, it would shoot a pang through my heart to think that I should have brought such misery upon them through my neglect of divine things. A man often hesitates before he will plunge his family into the speculation which he would not shudder at himself. To be damned yourself is something terrible condemned of God, withered and blasted for ever with his anger, cast away where hope can never come! Well, you may gird up your loins, and make your brow as brass, and say, “I will even run the risk of that, and beard the Eternal, and defy the fierceness of his wrath,” but can you bear to think that your seed will probably fall into the same condemnation? Eyes will peer at you through the smoke of Tophet, and shall recognize you; then some such words as these shall be hissed into your ears. “A curse on thee, O man, the author of my miserable being, and the cause of my endless ruin. A curse be on thee, and a sevenfold hell on thee, my sire, and on thee, woman, that gave me birth, for ye trained me in the service of the devil, and everlasting destruction fell on me through you. O inhuman wretches, to consign your own children to the flames! Fiends that ye were, to teach me the ways of vanity and irreligious, both by your example and your precepts.” Ah! sinner, this will multiply your torments; you shall be dragged down by your own children’s hands to lower depths of misery. I pray you stop and think, and if you cannot redeem the mischief which you have already done, yet repent of it, fly to the cross, be saved yourself, and mayhap those of your house who still are spared, may, with yourself, be saved. O that divine grace might lead you, like the Philippian jailor, to cry out, “What must I do to be saved?” and then to hear the voice of promise, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thine house.” Oh, if my words could be as flashes of lightning, if every syllable I drop be a flame of fire, I should be rejoiced, if so be that thoughtless ungodly ones would but turn to God and live.
Does not this command of this morning press upon every Christian here, not alone upbraiding us, but as arousing our laggard energies, exciting us to something more of diligence and effort? Will you not, dear friends, this afternoon, pray that Mr. Hammond’s words may be powerful among the throng of boys and girls? Will it not be a matter of conscience with everyone here that at home you will plead with God for a blessing? And during this week will you not maintain a gracious concert of earnest prayer that the benediction may descend like showers of gracious rain upon these young plants? Will you not give us your best help if you see any movements of God’s Spirit? Will you not join to cheer and to instruct the newborn converts? Will you not consider whether you could not take a class in one of the surrounding Sunday schools? Will you not roll away that reproach which I mentioned just now, which rests upon some of you, because there are schools without teachers? Parents, will you not pray for your children, and even to-day seek to hold up Jesus before them? Will we not all, God helping us, say within ourselves, that we will not longer sin against the child, but in Jesus’ name seek to gather his lambs and feed them for him? Amen.