These things are told us by three of the evangelists. St. Matthew mentions them in chapter xix: 13-15. St. Mark x: 13-16, and St. Luke xviii: 15-17.
On another occasion, when he was in the temple, the children sang hosannas to him as the son of David. The chief priests and scribes were greatly displeased, when they heard it, and "said unto him, hearest thou what these say? and Jesus said unto them, yea: have ye never read, out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?" Matt, xxi: 15, 16. Here he quoted from the Old Testament (Ps. viii: 2) to prove to them from their own scriptures, that God loves little children, and delights to have them engage in his service, and sing his praises.
And there was one other occasion on which Jesus spoke about the children, and showed his interest in them. This was after his resurrection. We read about it in St. John xxi: 15-18. He met his disciples, one day, on the shore of the sea of Galilee. Peter, who had shamefully denied his Master on the night in which he was betrayed was present with them. Jesus said to him, as if to remind him of his great sin, "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?" "Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee," said the penitent disciple. "Feed my lambs," was his Master's reply. Here again, how beautifully Jesus showed his great love for the little ones of his flock!
From these different passages, we see clearly how dear little children are to the heart of our blessed Saviour! He is the only great Teacher who ever showed such an interest in children. And the religion of Jesus is the only religion which teaches its followers to love and care for the little ones. The worshipers of the idol Moloch, mentioned in the Bible, used to offer their children as burnt-sacrifices to their cruel god. Mahometans look upon their women and children as inferior beings. The Hindoos neglect their infants, and leave them exposed on the banks of the Ganges, or throw them into the river to be devoured by the hungry crocodiles. In the city of Pekin many infants are thrown out into the streets every night. Sometimes they are killed by the fall. Sometimes they are only half killed, and linger, moaning in their agony, till the morning. Then the police go around, and pick them up, and throw them all together into a hole and bury them.
In Africa, the children are sometimes buried alive; and sometimes left out in the fields or forests for the wild beasts to devour them. In the South Sea Islands three-fourths of all the children born used to be killed. Sometimes they would strangle their babies. Sometimes they would leave them, where oxen and cattle would tread on them, and trample them to death; while, at other times, they would break all their joints, beginning with their fingers and toes, and then go on to their wrists, and elbows, and shoulders. How dreadful it is to think of such practices! And when we turn from these scenes of heart-rending cruelty and think of the gracious Saviour, -- the "gentle Jesus, meek and mild," stretching forth his arms in loving tenderness, and uttering the sweet words, -- "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God," -- what a wonderful contrast it makes!
And when we think of all that Jesus did and said to show his interest in children, we may well ask ourselves such questions as these, -- Why was it so? What did he do it for? And when we come to look carefully into this part of the life of Christ, we can see four great things in it; and these are the reasons why Jesus did and said so much about children.
In the first place we see -- GREAT LOVE -- in the interest Christ manifested towards the young.
It was the same love which brought him down from heaven, and made him willing to become a little child himself; the same love which made him willing to live in poverty -- and suffer the dreadful death upon the cross that led him to show such interest in the little ones. But if he had not told us himself how he feels on this subject, we could not have been sure of it. Children might well have said, when they heard about the love of Christ, "Yes, we have no doubt that Jesus does love grown up people, men and women in general. We believe this because the Bible tells us so; but how do we know that he loves us children?" If he had not told us so himself, we could not have been sure of it. But we know it now. And when we hear, or read of the love of Christ, we may be sure that it takes the children in.
During a famine in Germany, a family became so poor that they were in danger of starving. The father proposed that one of the children should be sold, and food provided for those that remained. At last the mother consented; but then the question arose which one of the four should be selected. The eldest, their first-born, could not be spared; the second looked like the mother, the third was like his father, and they could not give either of them up; and then the youngest -- why, he was their pet, their darling, how could they give him up? So they concluded that they would all perish together, rather than part with one of their little ones. When those children knew of this, they might very well feel sure that their parents loved them. But Jesus did more than this for us, he was willing to die upon the cross, and he did so die, that "not one of his little ones should perish."
"Being Loved Back Again." Little Alice Lee sat in her rocking chair. She was clasping a beautiful wax doll to her bosom, and singing sweet lullabies to it. But every little while she looked wistfully at her mother. She was busy writing, and had told Alice to keep as quiet as possible till she got through.
It seemed a long time to Alice; but after awhile her mother laid down her pen, and pushed aside her papers, and said: -- "Now I am through for to-day, Alice, and you can make as much noise as you please."
In a moment Alice laid down her doll, and running to her mother, threw her arms round her neck, and nestled sweetly in her loving bosom.
"I'm so glad," said Alice, "I wanted to love you so much, mamma."
"Did you, darling?" and the mother clasped the little one tenderly in her arms. "I am very glad that my little girl loves me;" replied her mother, "but I thought you were not very lonely while I was writing; you and dollie seemed to be having a good time together."
"Yes, we had, mamma; but I always get tired of loving dollie after awhile."
"Do you, dear? Tell me why?"
"O, because she never loves me back again."
"And is that why you love me?"
"That is one why, mamma; but not the first one, or the best one."
"And what is the first, and best?"
"Why, mamma, can't you guess?" and the little girl's blue eyes grew very bright, as they gazed earnestly into her mother's face. "It's because you loved me when I was too little to love you back; that's why I love you so."
And what a reason this is why we should love Jesus! He loved us when we were too little to love him back. The Bible says -- "We love him because he first loved us." He loved us before we knew him, or had ever heard of him. He loved us before we were born. Before the world was made Jesus thought of you and me, and loved us. This is what he means when he says: -- "I have loved thee with an everlasting love." Jer. xxxi: 3. This means a love that never had a beginning, and that will never have an end. This is very wonderful. And when we think of it, we may well sing out our thankfulness in the words of the hymn:
"I am glad that our Father in heaven
And when we think of all the kind words and actions of Jesus, by which he showed his interest in little children, the first thing that we see in them is -- great love.
Now, let us take another look at this part of our Saviour's life, and the second thing that we see in it is -- GREAT WISDOM.
It is wise to take care of the children and try to bring them to Jesus when young, because then they are easily controlled.
Suppose we plant an acorn in a corner of our garden. After awhile a green shoot springs out from it. We go to look at it when it is about a foot high. We find it getting crooked; but with the gentlest touch of thumb and finger, we can straighten it out. We wish it to lean in a particular direction. We give it a slight touch, and it leans just that way. Afterwards we conclude to have it lean in the opposite direction. Another slight touch, and it takes that direction. It is true, as the poet says, "Just as the twig is bent, the tree's inclined." But, suppose we let it grow for twenty or thirty years, and then come back to it. It is now a great oak tree. There is an ugly twist in its trunk. We try to straighten it out; but in vain. No power on earth can do that now. You can cut it down; or saw it up; or break it into splinters; but you cannot straighten it.
Suppose, that you and I should go to one of the highest summits of the Rocky Mountains. In a certain place there, we should find two little fountains springing up near each other. With the end of a finger we might trace the course in which either of those little springs should flow. We could lead one down the eastern side of the mountains, and the other down the western side. It would be very easy to control them then. But suppose now we travel down the side of the mountain till we reach the plain, at its base. Now see, yonder is a great river, rolling on its mighty flood of waters. That is what the little spring has grown to. It is too late to control it now. The time for controlling it was up yonder near the spring.
It is easy to control the spring; it is very hard to control the river. Jesus wished to control the spring when he directed us to bring the children to him. And in this he showed his wisdom.
It is wise to take an interest in children, and bring them early to Jesus -- because they have great influence in the world.
Who can tell the influence that children are exerting in the world? We have an illustration of this in the words that were once spoken by Themistocles, the celebrated Grecian governor and general. He had a little boy, of whom his mother was very fond and over whom the child had very great influence. His father pointed to him, one day, and said to a friend, "Look at that child; he has more power than all Greece. For the city of Athens rules Greece; I rule Athens; that child's mother rules me, and he rules his mother."
I feel sure our Saviour must have felt very much as some one has done, who writes in this way about
THE GOOD THAT CHILDREN DO.
"A dreary place would be this earth
"No little forms, like buds to grow,
"No babe within our arms to leap,
"Life's song indeed would lose its charm,
And if children have so great an influence in the world it was wise in Jesus to desire to have them brought early to him that they might learn to use that influence in the best possible way.
And then it was wise in Jesus to desire this, again, because bringing children to him prevents great trouble, and secures great blessing.
We are all familiar with Dr. Watts' sweet hymn, which says:
"'Twill save us from a thousand snares
Here is a striking illustration of this truth in the history of:
"One Neglected Child." A good many years ago, in one of the upper counties of New York, there was a little girl named Margaret. She was not brought to Christ, but was turned out on the world to do as she pleased. She grew up to be perhaps the wickedest woman in that part of the country. She had a large family of children, who became about as wicked as herself; her descendants have been a plague and a curse to that county ever since. The records of that county show that two hundred of her descendants have been criminals. In a single generation of her descendants there were twenty children. Three of these died in infancy. Of the remaining seventeen, who lived to grow up, nine were sent to the state prison for great crimes; while all the others were found, from time to time, in the jails, the penitentiaries, or the almshouses. Nearly all the descendants of this woman were idiots, or drunkards, or paupers, or bad people, of the very worst character. That one neglected child thus cost the county in which she lived hundreds of thousands of dollars, besides the untold evil that followed from the bad examples of her descendants. How different the result would have been if this poor child had been brought to Jesus and made a Christian when she was young!
"The Result of Early Choice." Here is a short story of two boys, of the choice they made when young, and the different results that followed from that choice.
A minister of the gospel was preaching on one occasion to the convicts in the state prison of Connecticut. As he rose in the desk and looked around on the congregation, he saw a man there whose face seemed familiar to him. When the service was over he went to this man's cell, to have some conversation with him.
"I remember you very well, sir," said the prisoner. "We were boys in the same neighborhood; we went to the same school; sat beside each other on the same bench, and then my prospects were as bright as yours. But, at the age of fourteen, you made choice of the service of God, and became a Christian. I refused to come to Christ, but made choice of the world and sin. And now, you are a happy and honored minister of the gospel, while I am a wretched outcast. I have served ten years in this penitentiary and am to be a prisoner here for life."
Jesus knew what blessings would follow to those who were early brought to him, and we see that there was great wisdom in the words that he spake when he said -- "Suffer the little children to come unto me."
In the next place there was -- GREAT ENCOURAGEMENT -- in what Jesus did and said about children.
If a company of boys or girls should try to get into the presence of a monarch, some great king, or emperor, they would find it a pretty hard thing to do. At the door of the palace they would meet with soldiers or servants, the guards of the queen or king. They would say to the children -- "what do you want here?" And if the children should say, "Please sir, we wish to go into the palace and see the queen," the answer would be: "Go away; go away. The queen is too busy. She has no time to attend to little folks like you." And the children would have to go away without getting to see the queen.
But, Jesus is a greater king than any who ever sat upon an earthly throne. He has more to do than all the kings and queens in the world put together. And yet he never gave orders to the angels, or to any of his servants to keep the children away from him. On his great throne in yonder heavens he says still, what he said when he was on earth -- "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not." And he says this on purpose to encourage the children to come to him. And the thought that Jesus loves them and feels an interest in them has encouraged multitudes of little ones to seek him and serve him. Here are some illustrations of this:
"Learning to Love Jesus." "A little girl came to me one day," said a minister of the gospel, and said, "'Please sir, may I speak to you a minute?' I saw that she was in some trouble; so I took her kindly by the hand, and said, 'Certainly, my child. What do you wish to say?'
"'Please, sir,' said she, as her lip quivered and tears filled her eyes, 'it's a dreadful thing; but I don't love Jesus.'
"'And are you not going to love him?' I asked.
"'I don't know; but please sir, I want you to tell me how.' She spoke sadly, as if it was something she never could do.
"'Well,' I said, 'St. John, who loved our Lord almost more than any one else ever did, says that "we love him because he first loved us." Now if you go home to-night, saying in your heart, "Jesus loves me," I think that to-morrow you will be able to say -- "I love Jesus."'
"She looked up through her tears, and repeated the words very softly, 'Jesus loves me.' She began to think about it on her way home, as well as to say it. She thought about his life, about his death on the cross, and about his sweet words to the little ones, and she began to feel it too.
"The next evening she came to see me again; and, putting both her hands in mine, with a bright happy face, she said:
"'Oh! please sir, I love Jesus now; for I know he does love me so!'"
Here was a little one encouraged to come to Jesus by thinking of the interest he feels in children.
"Doesn't He Love to Save?" A mother had just tucked her little boy in bed, and had received his good-night kisses. She lingered awhile, at his bedside, to speak to him about Jesus, and to see if he was feeling right toward him. He was a good, obedient boy, but that day he had done something that grieved his mother. He had expressed his sorrow for it, and asked his mother's forgiveness. As she stooped down for the last kiss, he said -- "Is it all settled, mother?"
"Yes, my child," she said, "it's all settled with me; but have you settled it all with Jesus?" "Yes, mother: I've asked him to forgive me: and I believe him when he says he will; for doesn't he love to help and save children?" "He does, my child, he does," said his mother, as she gazed on his happy little face, lighted up with the joy of that gospel, so often hidden from the wise and prudent, but revealed to babes.
Here we see how this little fellow was encouraged to seek Jesus from the assurance that he feels an interest in children, and loves to help and bless them.
"Love Leads to Love." A little boy named Charley stood at the window with his mother one morning, watching the robins as they enjoyed their morning meal of cherries from the tree near their house. "Mother," said Charley, "How the birdies all love father."
"They do," said his mother, "but what do you suppose is the reason that the birdies love your father?"
This question seemed to set Charley to thinking. He did not answer at first, but presently he said, "Why mother all the creatures seem to love father. My dog is almost as glad to see him as to see me. Pussy, you know, always comes to him, and seems to know exactly what he is saying. Even the old cow follows him around the meadow, and the other day I saw her licking his hand, just as a dog would. I think it must be because father loves them. You know he will often get up and give pussy something to eat; and he pulls carrots for the cow, and pats her; and somehow I think his voice never sounds so sweet as when he is talking to these dumb creatures."
"I think his voice is very pleasant when he is talking to his little boy," said his mother.
Charley smiled, and said, "That's so, mother. Father loves me, and I love him dearly. But he loves the birdies too I am sure. He whistles to them every morning when they are eating their cherries, and they don't seem a bit afraid of him, although he is near enough to catch them. Mother I wish everything loved me as they do father."
"Do as father does, Charley, and they will. Love all things and be kind to them. Don't kick the dog, or speak roughly to him. Don't pull pussy's tail, nor chase the hens, nor try to frighten the cow. Never throw stones at the birds. Never hurt nor tease anything. Speak gently and lovingly to them and they will love you, and everybody that knows you will love you too."
Now Charley's father, in acting as he did, was trying to make all the dumb creatures about him know that he was their friend; that he loved them, and had nothing but kindness in his heart towards them. In this way he encouraged them to come to him, and not be afraid of him.
And this is just the way in which Jesus was acting when he did and said so much to show his interest in children. He wants them all to understand that he is their friend; that he loves them, and wants them to come to him and love and serve him. And so every child who hears or reads about Jesus may feel encouraged to say:
"Once in his arms the Saviour took
"And though to heaven the Lord hath gone,
"I'd rather be the least of them
And so we may well say that in what Jesus did and said about the children there is great encouragement.
And then there are -- GREAT LESSONS -- too, in this part of the life of Christ.
There are two lessons taught us here. One is about the work we are to do for Jesus here on earth. When Jesus said to Peter, "Lovest thou me? Feed my lambs," he meant to teach him, and you, and me, and all his people everywhere, the best way in which we can show our love to him. The lambs of Christ here spoken of mean little children, wherever they are found. And to feed these lambs is to teach them about Jesus. When we are trying to bring the young to Jesus and teaching them to love and serve him, then we are doing the work that is most pleasing to him: -- the work that he most loves to have his people do. It was thinking about this that first led me to begin the work of preaching regularly to the young. And this is the lesson that Jesus would have all his people learn when he says to each of them: -- "Lovest thou me? Feed my lambs."
"The Angel in the Stone." Many years ago there was a celebrated artist who lived in Italy, whose name was Michael Angelo. He was a great painter, and a great sculptor, or a worker in marble. He loved to see beautiful figures chiseled out of marble, and he had great power and skill in chiseling out such figures. One day, as he was walking with some friends through the city of Florence, he saw a block of marble lying neglected in a yard, half covered with dust and rubbish. He stopped to examine that block of marble. That day happened to be a great holiday in Florence and the artist had his best suit of clothes on; but not caring for this he threw off his coat, and went to work to clear away the rubbish from that marble. His friends were surprised. They said to him: -- "Come on, let's go; what's the use of wasting your time on that good-for-nothing lump of stone?"
"O, there's an angel in this stone," said he, "and I must get it out."
He bought that block; had it removed to his studio, and then went to work with his mallet and his chisel, and never rested till out of that rough, unshapen mass of stone he made a beautiful marble angel.
Now, every child born into our world is like such a block of marble. The only difference is that children are living stones -- marble that will last forever. And when we bring our children to Jesus, and by his help teach them to love and serve him, we are doing for them just what Michael Angelo was doing for his block of marble -- we are getting the angels out of the stones. And this is what Jesus loves to have us do.
"How to Get the Angels Out." A Christian mother, whose children had all been early taught to love and serve Jesus, was asked the secret of her success in bringing up her children. This was her answer: -- "While my children were infants on my lap, as I washed them day by day, I raised my heart to God that he would wash them in that blood which cleanseth from all sin; as I clothed them in the morning, I asked my heavenly Father to clothe them with the robe of Christ's righteousness; as I provided them food I prayed that God would feed their souls with the bread of heaven, and give them to drink of the water of life. When I prepared them for the house of God I pleaded that their bodies might be made fit temples for the Holy Ghost to dwell in. When they left me daily for the week-day school, I followed their youthful footsteps with the prayer that their path through life might be like that of the just, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day. And night after night, as I committed them to rest, the silent breathing of my soul has been, that their heavenly Father would take them under his tender care and fold them in his loving, everlasting arms."
Let Christian mothers follow this example and they will not fail to bring the angel out from every block of living marble that God has given them.
"The Best Time for Doing This." A faithful minister of Christ had a dear only daughter. She had been a thoughtful praying child. When only twelve years old she had joined her father's church. She now lay on her dying bed. "As I sat by her bedside," says her father, "among the things she said which I shall never forget were these: -- 'Father you know I joined the church when I was young -- very young. Some of our friends thought that I was too young. But, oh! how I wish I could tell everybody what a comfort it is to me now to think of it.' Then reaching out her hand -- the fingers were already cold -- and grasping mine, she said with great earnestness: -- 'Father, you are at work for the young. Do all you can for them while they are young. It's the best time -- the best time. Oh! I see it now as I never did before. It is the best time -- while they are young -- the younger the better. Do all you can for them while they are very young.' And then she fell asleep in Jesus."
This is the lesson about the work we are to do for him on earth, that Jesus taught in what he said concerning the children.
But when we think of those sweet words of Jesus -- "Of such is the kingdom of heaven," we are taught a lesson about the company we shall meet there. We learn from what our blessed Lord says on this subject that he saves all the little ones who die before they are accountable for their actions. And we know that of all the persons born into our world more than half of them die before they reach this age. And this makes it very certain that more than half the company of heaven will be made up of little children. This is a very sweet thought to those who have lost little ones; and to those who love them.
And some people think that when young children die and go to heaven, they will not grow up to be men and women, but will always remain children. The Rev. Mr. Bickersteth, of England, in speaking of a father meeting his little ones in heaven, who died years before he did, represents him as meeting them there, just of the same age and size as they were when they died. And then he expresses his own thought on this subject in a single line:
"A babe in glory, is a babe forever."
But God has not said anything on this subject in the Bible. And when he himself has not spoken on such a point as this, it is impossible for us to say certainly which way it will be. But when we get to heaven and find just how it is, we shall all agree that God's way is the best way.
And then Jesus shows us plainly what our character must be if we hope to go to heaven and join the happy company there.
These are the words he spake on this subject; "Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein." Mark x: 15. Jesus refers here to some of the best things that we find marking the character of a good child. Such a child is gentle, and loving, and kind; and this must be our character, if we hope to enter heaven. Such a child is willing to be taught: -- believes all that his parent or teacher tells him; and does everything that he is told to do; and such must our character be if we hope to enter heaven.
And so when we come to study out this part of our Saviour's life, and think of all that he did and said to show his interest in children, we see these four great things in it: viz., great love; great wisdom; great encouragement; and great lessons.
I know not how to express in a better way the feelings which should be in the heart of everyone, young or old, on thinking of this great subject, than in the words of one who has thus sweetly written:
"Lamb of God! I look to Thee,
"Fain I would be as Thou art,
"Let me above all fulfill
"Loving Jesus, gentle Lamb!
"I shall then show forth thy praise;