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may be deceived as to the character of his own acts and feelings in conversion; "for the heart is deceitful above all things.” But God knows his own work. And when he has wrought the great effect, when he has regenerated the sinner, there can be no mistake about it. The gracious result is produced and remains, no matter what the sinner's thoughts and feelings may be respecting it. There are doubtless many who are converted, as the language is popularly understood, who, in the exercise of their own wills, resolve to be, and to do, good, are sorry for their sins, and feel that they believe and repent, and who run well for a time, but who were never really “born again,” “ begotten” of God the Holy Ghost. But when God has once begun his good work of Omnipotent grace in the soul, he will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. Hence the meaning and importance of the word regeneration in our subject.
Accordingly, this is the first, the chief thing, that those who are engaged in the work of Sabbath-schools should ain at, pray, and labor for the actual regeneration, by the third Person of the Godhead, of the children brought under the care of the church. It is not so much to secure the right action of the child, important as this may be, as to secure the almighty, efficacious action of the Blessed Spirit, by which the right action of the child will be infallibly assured. On the very face of it, this is an unspeakably solemn busi
It brings the teacher into nearer, closer contact with the Eternal Spirit, than with the child. In dealing with the child, the teacher simply presents truth, motives, and appeals; and we know that this is to no good purpose unless the Holy Spirit is present, and by the secret Omnipotent insinuations of his grace, seals and makes them vital in the soul of the child. The most serious and tremendous truth we can speak is pow. erless for salvation, apart from this Divine co-operation. Paul may plant and Apollos may water, but God alone gives the increase. There is thus absolute need of some extrinsic power to make truth forcible, efficacious, renewing; and there is no power available to this end, other than that of God's eternal spirit. Accordingly, he who presents that truth, must have power with God as well as power with his fellow-man to whom he presents it.
The sentiment is more or less prevalent, that there is a difference between the spiritual condition of unrenewed little children, and that of unrenewed adults. Doubtless the former are more accessible, more easily moved by statements of Bible truths than are the latter. Their constitutional susceptibilities are more keen; their intellectual acquaintance with error and evil comparatively slight; their habits of sin less fixed and persistent; but these things do not touch the undeniable and awful fact of their native hereditary depravity; which, while it may not be as active, is none the less existent and total, than in the most hardened sinner. Little children have the same indispensable need of the “exceeding greatness of God's power" for renewal and salvation as adults. A new creation in Christ Jesus is the essential prerequisite in all instances whatsoever of human salvation. The Sabbath-school instructor should understand and profoundly feel this ; else he will in all likelihood fail of the result which he seeks, because he does not direct his efforts to the right object, to his only efficient Helper.
The idea of “conversion' when most prominent in the mind of the teacher, takes him to the child, to his intellect, his heart, his will. The idea of "regeneration ” when most prominent, takes the teacher to the Holy Spirit, to his sovereign agency, to his almighty power, to his infinite love. The first makes the teacher a worker together with the child ; the second, makes him a "worker together with God.” And, as we have seen, the Divine influence is primary, and must be exerted in order to the right mental and moral action of the child.
With such a view of the work of saving the souls of men, particularly of children, how solemn, how fearfully responsible is the office of a teacher in the Sabbath-school! Who is sufficient for these things? What a friendship, what a sacred familiarity with the Holy Spirit are requisite? What an acquaintance with the methods, and conditions, and circumstances of his gracious operations is needed. What a profound sense of dependence on bis august presence. IIis holy
will must be felt; for he dispenses his gifts and graces according to his own sovereign pleasure.“ The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth, so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” How carefully should the teacher order his steps before him! What a place of high communion and earnest wrestling should his closet be!
And, moreover, as the teacher's dependence for its salvation is not upon the will and resolution of the child, for “ it is not of him that willeth nor of him that runnetli," but upon the immediate and efficient energy of the Divine Spirit, he himself should seek to become, in connection with the divine word he uses, a channel of mercy to his listening children, “ communicating grace" as one apostle says, " to them that hear him ;” or, as another has it, “ begetting them in the gospel” unto life and salvation. Need we urge that such a teacher should be a prepared channel, a sanctified, humble, loving , medium for the grace of the Holy Spirit. If holy men of old were selected by God as the conveyancers of the inspiration of the Holy Ghost in the composition of the Bible, assuredly holy men should now be selected by the church as the convey- . ancers of the grace of renewal and sanctification. God has appointed not simply the bare word as the chief instrumentality of the Spirit's work, but that word uttered, orally delivered by Christian lips from Christian hearts.
“ It has pleased God by the foolishness of preaching,” lay and clerical, “to save them that believe.” The teacher should, therefore, himself be a person full of faith and of the Holy Ghost. The word he utters should be a living word, a fire in his bones, a word that penetrates and moves, illumines and constrains himn. Then it is most likely to be a word of power wrought into the soul of the hearer by the Divine Spirit.
The question is often asked, “ Can children, as such, be converted to the Lord Jesus Christ?” The answer will be found to be various. Often grave doubts are suggested; many reserves are made. The emphasis, it is true, is not laid so much on the word can, on the possibility of their conversion, as on its unreliability; and the mind is put into a condition of hesitation and difficulty on the subject. This is owing,
doubtless, in part at least, to the associations which the word conversion excites. The mind fixes itself upon the finite and sinful child, upon his intellectual and moral powers and activities; and such queries as these are started: Do not the requisite mental acts and exercises demand a degree of intelligence and moral balance, that little children can scarcely be supposed to possess
? Must there not be, what is called a "law work,” a work of reproof and alarm and conviction, a conscious struggle against sin and Satan and the world, precedent to conversion? And can we, in the inexperienced and relatively unformed minds of little children, rely upon the preliminary steps which lead to true faith and repentance? Thus the subject of the salvation of children is clogged and darkened by questions pertaining to mental and moral philosophy, and zeal for, and confidence in, the work, are greatly abated.
But when the question of regeneration is raised, the mind is otherwise affected. Another and a totally different class of associations is awakened, and the answer is prompt: “Nothing is impossible with God: he can make Christians out of the stones of the streets.” The mind dares not limit the
power of the Eternal Spirit. We are very ignorant of the mysterious mechanism of the human mind in all its stages from infancy to old age, and we should be exceedingly careful how we traverse the work of its Creator upon its subtle substance.
As thou knowest not what is the way of the Spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child, even 80 thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.” The degree and kind of the understanding of truth, requisite to the Holy Spirit's work on a child are beyond our ken. A single seed of truth lodged in his soul in infancy, may be made the occasion and instrument of regeneration. And we do not know but that the effectual work of the Spirit may antedate, in some children, the intellectual apprehension of any truth; that they may be sanctified from the womb, or from baptism, and qualified by the presence and power of the Spirit for a very early apprehension of the truths of the word of God. The Lutheran and Reformed churches are based upon this conception of the regenerating efficacy of the Spirit in little children.
The covenant-promise of the Holy Spirit is, “to parents and their children.” And the work of regeneration involved in “the promise of the Spirit," is the work primarily regarded and believed in, by these churches. The evidences, the fruits and manifestations of that work, in the infantile and childislı mind, subject as that mind is to the restraints and training and religious habits of a godly home, may be, must be in many cases, difficult to detect before their riper years and larger experience of sin and temptation and the world; but the assumption of these churches, based upon clear Bible rev. elations, is that the children of believers are regenerated and savingly united to Christ, until the contrary is established in their subsequent life; and it is expected that at an early age they will be admitted to the Lord's table. The agency of the Spirit, according to the promise, is taken for granted: and the children of the church are to be looked upon and trained and treated as renewed and united to Christ, till they themselves disprove it, by their own wilful rejection of the covenant in which they were born, baptized, and blessed. This, we say, is the underlying assumption of most, if not of all, the churches of the Protestant world.*
And here another inquiry suggests itself, Will the Spirit of God regenerate Sabbath-school children? May teachers depend on him for this result, and look for it with contidence ?
To a very large extent, as we have already observed, our schools are composed of children whose parents are irreligious,
* In the constitution of the Presbyterian Church the following language is used on this subject :--I. Children, born within the pale of the visible church, and dedicated to God in baptism, are under the inspection and government of the church ; and are to be taught to read, and repeat the Catechism, the Apos.
1 tles' Creed, and the Lord's Prayer. They are to be taught to pray, to abhor sin, to fear God, and to obey the Lord Jesus Christ. And, when they come to years of discretion, if they be free from scandal, appear sober and steady, and to have suficient knowledge to discern the Lord's body, they ought to be informed, it is their duty, and their privilege, to come to the Lord's Supper. II. The years of discretion, in young Christians, cannot be precisely fixed. This must be left to the prudence of the eldership. The officers of the church are the judges of the qualifications of those to be admitted to sealing ordinances; and of the time when it is proper to admit young Christians to them."-Directory for Worship, chap. ix.