When a young mother with her first born thence
Went up to Zion, for the boy was vowed
Unto the Temple-service; by the hand
She led him, and her silent soul, the while,
Oft as the dewy laughter of his eye
Met her sweet serious glance, rejoiced to think
That aught so pure, so beautiful, was hers,
To bring before her God!"
Beautiful thought, and thrice beautiful deed, -- fresh from the pure fount of maternal piety! The Hebrew mother consecrating her first-born child to the Temple-service, -- dedicating him to the God who gave him! What visions of unearthly glory must have been before her, as she led her little boy before the altar of the "King of kings!" Happy mother! thou hast long since gone to thy great reward. And happy child! to be led by such a mother. Ye are now together in that temple "not made with hands, eternal in the heavens," and with united voice swelling those anthems of glory which are poured from angelic lips and harps to Him who sitteth upon the throne.
What an example is this for the Christian parent! God is the Father of every home. From Him cometh down every good and perfect gift; and hence to Him should all the interests and the loved ones of the household, be dedicated. This is essential to the very conception of a Christian home.
But especially should the children be dedicated to the Lord. That infant over which the mother bends and watches with such passionate fondness, is "an heritage of the Lord," given to her only in trust, and will again be required from her. As soon as children are given they should be devoted to Him; for "the flower, when offered in the bud, is no mean sacrifice." Then and then only will parents properly respect and value their offspring, and deal with them as becometh the property of God. By withholding them, the parents become guilty of the deed of Ananias and Sapphira. Like the Hebrew mother, every Christian parent will gratefully devote them to Him, and rejoice that they have such a pure oblation to "bring before their God."
"My child, my treasure, I have given thee up
Here is a dedication worthy of a Christian mother. Natural affection and human pride might lead the fond mother to dedicate her child at the altar of Mammon, to gold, to fame, to magnificence, to the world. But no, every wish of the pious mother's heart is merged in one great wish and prayer, "that thou may'st be His child."
The dedication of our children to the Lord is one of the first acts of the religious ministry of home. All the means of grace will be of no avail without it. What will the acts of the gospel minister avail if they are not preceded by an offering of himself to the Lord who has called him? His holy vocation demands such an offering. It is his voluntary response to and acceptance of his calling of God. Thus with Christian parents. What will baptism avail, so far as the parents are concerned, without this dedication of their children to Him in whose name they are baptised? No more than the form apart from the spirit. It would be but a mockery of God.
We have a beautiful example and illustration of this dedication, in the family of the faithful Abraham. "By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son." We might at first view regard this act of his as an evidence of his want of parental sympathy and tenderness. But not so; it is rather an evidence of these. What he did was the prompting of a true faith, yielding implicit obedience to the Lord, and offering as an obligation to Him, what he loved most upon earth. Had he not loved him so dearly, God would not have chosen him as a means of testing his father's religious fidelity. Hence this oblation of his son was the best evidence of his supreme love to God, and that all he had was consecrated to his service. This act called for the subordination of natural affection to Christian faith and love. "Take now thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt offering!"
What a startling command was this! How it must have stirred up the soul of that parent, and for the time caused a bitter conflict between natural affection and Christian faith! "Take thy son," -- had it been a slave, the command would not have been so stirring; but a son, an only son, the joy of his heart, and the pride and hope of his age, -- the son he so much loved, -- oh it was this that harrowed up such a revulsion in his soul, and, for the moment doubtless, caused him to shrink from the very thought of obedience. But the command was imperious, -- it was from God; and though the parent shrunk from the deed, yet the faith of the faithful servant gained a signal triumph over all the protestations of natural affection, and silenced all its rising murmurs; for "Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with, him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him." There he built an altar, laid the wood in order, bound Isaac, and laid him upon the wood on the altar. But when with uplifted sacrificial knife, he was about to slay his son, just at the point where God had the true test of his faith, a ministering angel stayed his hand, and prevented the bloody form in which he was about to offer his only son to God; "for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me!" He needed now but dedicate him in the moral sense to God.
The case of Samuel is another instance of the offering of children unto the Lord. His mother had asked him of the Lord, and vowed, as she prayed, to "give him unto the Lord all the days of his life." -- 1 Sam. I., 11. Her prayer was answered, and in obedience to her holy vow, she took him, when very young, with her to the Temple, where she offered him up as an oblation to the Lord. "For this child I prayed, and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him; therefore also have I lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth shall he be lent unto the Lord!" David also consecrated all that he had to the Lord, -- his possessions as well as his children. When he built a house, he dedicated it to the Lord, and prepared "a psalm and song at the dedication of the house."
Here in these examples of Old Testament family offerings to God, we have a type and illustration of the oblations of the Christian home. The Lord does not ask the Christian parent, as he did Abraham, to build an altar upon the summit of some lofty cliff, and there to thrust a sacrificial knife to the heart of his child, and offer his quivering flesh and bleeding body a burnt offering to him; but he commands him to bring his child to the altar of baptism in his church, and there dedicate his life, his talents, his all, as a living sacrifice "holy and acceptable unto God," vowing before witnessing angels and men that, as the steward of God and the representative of the child, he will hold it sacred, as the property of the Lord, given to him only in trust; that he will consult and faithfully execute the will of the Lord concerning the child, and that in all his relations to it, he will seek to make it subserve his purposes and reflect his glory.
This is the most precious and acceptable oblation of the parent's heart and home, -- more precious than gold or pearls, than rivers of blood, or streams of oil; and where there is a corresponding dedication of all that belongs to home, it promotes and preserves the highest privileges and the greatest well-being of the child. With the deep and sublime feelings of faith we should, therefore, take our little ones, in infancy, before the Lord, as the free-will offering of the Christian home; and in all subsequent periods of their life under the parental roof, we should eagerly watch, in each expanding faculty, in each growing inclination, in the bent of each tender thought, in the warm glow of each feeling and desire, for some indications of the will of God concerning their mission in this life.
This leads us to remark finally, that, in the dedication of our children to the Lord, we should have reference to the highest function within the calling of man, viz: the christian ministry; or in other words, we should offer our sons to God with the hope and prayer that He may call them to the work of the ministry, and every indication of His answer to our prayer, given in their mental and moral fitness, should encourage the parent to train them up with special reference to that sacred office.
This, the state of the church and the many destitute and waste places of the earth, imperiously demand. Like the Hebrew mother, we should at least devote one of our sons to the Temple-service, direct his attention to it, favor it by all our intercourse with him, and use all proper means for his preparation for it. And you may be assured that God will answer your prayer. Your offering, if holy, will be acceptable.
"Even thus, of old, a babe was offered up --
But alas! how many parents refuse thus to yield their sons unto God! They will formally and outwardly dedicate their children to Him in holy baptism; but afterwards obstruct their way to the ministry, yea, even discourage it for reasons the most worldly and infidel. They will remind them of its arduous duties and self-denials; they will remind them that it affords no money speculations, that the salary of ministers is so small, no wealth can be amassed by preaching, and besides, they will have to remove so far from home. And thus by urging such frivolous objections, they beget in their sons a prejudice against the ministry, -- yea, a contempt for it. Ah, if preaching were a money-making business; if it opened the door to luxury and affluence and worldly ease, then I am sure every parent would show the outward piety of dedicating his sons (and daughters too) to the ministry. Here we see how natural affection, misdirected by the love of worldly gain, neutralizes the promptings of faith. Had Abraham lived under the same influence, he would not have obeyed the edict of God. It is because of the dominant spirit of worldliness in the Christian home, that the laborers upon the walls of Zion are inadequate to the great work to be done, that they are insufficient for the great harvest of souls. And this will ever continue so long as Christian parents refuse to make an offering of their sons to God, and turn their homes into a den of thieves.
Such parental reservation of children for filthy lucre and the pleasures of sin for a season, involves a guilt which no redeeming attribute can mitigate. If God gave his only Son to suffer and die upon the accursed tree, shall we, his professed followers, not give in turn our sons to Him, to proclaim the glad news of a purchased and offered redemption? Think of this, oh ye who profess to be the parents of a Christian home, and have with the lip had your children dedicated to God in baptism! Think that the gift of God has bought them with a price, and that as they belong to Him, you rob God when you withhold them, and deal with them as your own property, leaving out of view the great law of stewardship. Mistaken parents! methinks you would give your children to all save to God; you would devote them to any thing but religion. You fit them for this life, choose their occupation, labor to leave them a large inheritance, and rejoice when they rise to eminence in the world.
But in all this, God, religion and eternity are cast into the shade; you act towards them as if God had no claim upon them, and you were under no obligations to meet that claim. Think of this, ye who have been recreant to your duty, -- ye who have not followed Abraham to the mount of oblation, nor brought up your sons as an offered Samuel. Oh think, that God will demand of you these children, and that if they are not now devoted to the Lord, you will not have them to return to Him in the great day of final reckoning. May the momentous interests and responsibilities of that coming day bring you with your children around the altar of consecration, and constrain you there to say --
"I give thee to thy God -- the God that gave thee,