Images of the Savior (38 â€“ His Receiving the Little Children)
Those of us whom our heavenly Father has blessed with children of our own may fully appreciate the immeasurably deep yearnings of parental love, which would have for our offspring nothing less than the eternal joy of knowing Christ our Savior, whom we have found in our own souls to be so satisfying; which is indeed the very compassion by which these who had found the delight of knowing Jesus were driven to bring their infant children to him, so that he might but touch them. Therefore, the Savior's response to these compassionate parents, and the manner in which he received their little children, quite contrary to the expectation of his disciples, is to us who are in the same circumstance a most precious glimpse indeed. And we may likewise be sure that all of us, whether we have children or not, may be most wonderfully instructed by the tender love of Jesus, and his words of wisdom which he takes opportunity to apply to all who would enter his Kingdom. Let us note precisely what it is that Jesus intimated on this blessed occasion, attempt to show how admirably consistent his comfortable doctrine is with the customary dealings of the Father throughout redemptive history, and finally draw a few applications from what we have learned.
First, we see that those whom the Lord took up in his arms and blessed included children of the tenderest ages, even infants, which is the proper signification of the term in verse fifteen; and we must notice as well that they are not just any infants, but infants whose parents are expressing their faith in Jesus by coming to him alone for the good of their children. It will do us much good, as we look to Jesus' words of blessing on this occasion, to remember always the precise subjects to which they were directed.
Second, we see that the benefits which Jesus conferred upon these infants included more than just a temporal or general blessing, but involved that blessing of all blessings, the possession of the eternal Kingdom, which carries with it all the irrevocable rights and privileges of the saints, namely, eternal life in the presence of Immanuel, where all that is evil or cursed will be forever banished. Now, we must pause here to defend this assertion, for there are some who babble against all reason and common sense that the possession of the Kingdom is here given, not to the infants themselves, but to certain others who are like them, because of that designation, â€œof suchâ€: but consider well, that Jesus is making this declaration in substantiation of his decision to permit these children to come unto him, and the force of his argument is altogether dissolved upon such an erroneous understanding. And more to the point, the very laws of logic cry out against such folly; for Jesus here explicitly declares that those who possess some characteristic in common with these infants are Kingdom heirs; but that the infants themselves possess this characteristic, whatever it is (which we will later discuss), is most certainly demanded, for if they did not have it, those who did have it would not be like them, and the meaning of Jesus' statement would thereby be utterly overturned. Consider then, if those who have this characteristic certainly possess the Kingdom; and if these infants certainly have the characteristic; then these infants certainly possess the Kingdom. To suggest otherwise impels one to the heights of gross absurdity, and makes a mockery of the clear intent of the words of our Savior.
Having thus established the import of Jesus' saying beyond any doubt, let us consider how appropriate a doctrine it is, in light of the tenor of redemptive history from the earliest days, that the children of them who believe in the Messiah, and who are therefore Kingdom citizens, must likewise be considered Kingdom citizens; although we will not cavil against that scriptural truth of God's sovereign election, which operates back of the normal canons of covenant inclusion, and confirms some in its essential participation while hardening others and eventually making manifest their lack of genuineness.
In the first place, we must remember that God has always been pleased, when he calls out a person from the kingdom of darkness to his own glorious Kingdom, to call along with him his children, throughout their generations, even as many as display the sincerity of their faith during the course of their lives. Consider that, when God chose to display his grace to Noah alone, in all his generation, he likewise saved his children from the waters of his judgment, bringing them into that notable type of the Redeemer, the ark (Genesis 7:1). And then, when God called out Abraham from his pagan environs, he later cut a covenant with him in which he explicitly included his offspring, from infancy, as covenant members (Genesis 17:1-14). Later, God established his covenant with David, and because of the mercy that he had covenanted to show to him, he likewise promised a seed which would ever sit upon his throne, and to whom God would ever be Father (II Samuel 7:1-14). Now, we readily admit that Abraham's seed was ultimately none other than Christ alone, and all who are in him (Galatians 3:16, 28-29); and that David's seed is likewise the eternally reigning Messiah (Acts 2:29-36); but the histories of the nation of Israel and the Davidic Kingdom, and indeed the clear commands of God himself, make utterly manifest that the multiplicity of offspring, in both cases, likewise participated in the blessing that would ultimately be found in Christ alone, even as it pleased God to constitute the multiplicity of seed within the single seed, that is, Jesus.
And second, we must remember that this divinely-ordained canon of acknowledging that children of covenant possessors are themselves covenant possessors from infancy (although for unbelief they may be broken off, see Romans 11:17-22) is nowhere in scripture repudiated. On the contrary, there are many hints and indications throughout the New Testament that God is still pleased to work in the same way, first, in that believers today are made partakers of the precise covenants which demanded infant inclusion (e.g. Ephesians 2:11-13; Galatians 3:29); and we know that it is impossible to change the circumstances of a covenant when once it has been confirmed (Galatians 3:15); second, in that the children of believers are spoken of as special, even â€œholyâ€ to the Lord (I Corinthians 7:14); and third, in that the overwhelming tendency of the historical accounts of the spread of the Kingdom indicates that God is still in the business of drawing to himself whole families, that is, parents and their children (e.g. Acts 2:38-39; 16:15; 16:30-34; I Corinthians 1:16).
But let us return to our text. We immediately notice the Savior's approbation of the parents' bringing their children to him, and so we must conclude that we also ought to bring our own children to Christ; only let us do so in the way that he himself has commanded, acknowledging their status as possessors of the kingdom through the sign of the covenant that he has given to us, which in this age is baptism (Matthew 28:18-20); and likewise through the solemn responsibility of raising them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4; see also, Deuteronomy 6:4-7), and through fervent intercessory prayer in their behalf. If we thus bring to Jesus our children, in accordance with the means that he has enjoined upon us, then no matter who should oppose us, as the disciples opposed these parents, we may assure ourselves that we are acting in a manner most pleasing to our Savior, and that he will embrace our own children as he embraced these, and hold forth to them the same eternal blessings.
Finally, let us notice that characteristic of these children which Jesus demands of all who would likewise be designated Kingdom heirs; and that is, a credulous heart which will readily embrace the truths of the gospel in genuine faith. We are reminded of Jesus' ascription of praise to the Father for his admirable custom of hiding his gospel truths from the wise of the world, and revealing them to babes and sucking infants (Matthew 11:25-26; see also Matthew 21:16). In this way, the Father often blesses the infant children of them who believe in him with a living heart that will accept without cavil the doctrines of the scripture from their first hearing of them, even as Timothy had known and believed the scriptures from infancy, being born into a family of genuine believers (II Timothy 3:14-15; see also 1:5). But just as the Father is many times pleased to create a heart which is ready to believe in the weakest and most helpless class of mankind, those tender infants of his saints, so he creates a heart of faith in those who are like them in this respect, that they are humble and powerless; these weak and ignoble men of the world, who for their simplicity are as infants in the eyes of the wise and adept, God likewise calls to himself, giving them a new heart which is willing to accept in all credulousness those truths which he reveals (see I Corinthians 1:26-31). We must acknowledge then that these little children are Kingdom heirs because they have been given a spiritual nature and heart of flesh by the Father; and furthermore, that only they who have likewise been given a humble and believing heart will possess the Kingdom along with them.
As we leave this account, let us rejoice in the mercy of God, whose covenant faithfulness extends to a thousand generations (Exodus 34:6-7), and whose gracious promise embraces even the helpless infants of them who believe in him, showering them with a living heart of faith and all the blessings upon which it lays hold. But let us also fear, knowing that they who have been counted a part of the eternal covenant, and who subsequently despise it, and manifest an evil heart of unbelief, will perish in the wilderness like that wicked generation of Israelites (Hebrews 3:12-19). Ah, let us be driven to take most seriously our responsibility to instruct our children in the gospel, and to pour out for them our unceasing prayers! But as we do so, let us never forget this precious image of our Savior, in which he readily takes up those tender souls that have been brought before him by their faithful parents; for in this precious glimpse we may find much balm for our anxious souls, and a hope that will never fail to sustain in us the greatest expectations of mercy from the Father in the lives of our children, whether they have been taken from us in their infancy or disappoint us in their maturity. As long as we remember the tender love of Jesus for our children, we may hope that his mercy will finally bring them home into his presence, where there is fullness of joy forevermore (Psalm 16:11).