« ElőzőTovább »
HILDREN AND THE CHURCH:
AS THEY ARE.
By Rev. HENRY T. ROBJOHNS, B.A.
ATTENTION has of late been drawn to the position in which
children stand both to the Lord Jesus and to the Christian Church. Mr. Mander, of Wolverhampton, has made it a serious business to obtain statistics and facts; and then to lay the results before the Churches in a series of letters to the English Independent. I purpose to have a talk here on this grave subject; nor shall I scruple to make wholesale use of the material furnished by our friend, feeling sure that no one will be more gratified than he, if the cause he has so much at heart be advanced.
I. The facts I will endeavour to give in a condensed form. Mr. Mander sent out circulars to a large number of Churches, asking(1) The number of members in the Church ; (2) how many between the ages of fourteen and eighteen; (3) how many under fourteen. After getting the information, sifting it thoroughly, and omitting twelve Churches, in which the number of young people was exceptionally great, he came upon the following lamentable revelation, that out of 1,716 members there were only thirty-four young people between fourteen and eighteen, and only one child under fourteen! Moreover, out of 404 Churches, which made returns, there were 379 which had not a single child member, and therefore of course only twenty-five which had ; and 199 without a single young person under eighteen. There can be no mistake about the facts, and they are portentous enough. What do they mean? Whatever they do not mean, they mean this—that the young people do not join our Churches. It is to be hoped that there is much early consecration to God, but this consecration does not end, at least in life's morning, in fellowship with the visible Church of Christ.
II. Can we reach the cause of this deplorable state of things? It is not far to seek. The cause lies in the public opinion of the Churches, which is directly against the Church membership of children; and so is indirectly prejudicial to their early consecration. This public opinion plays around us all like an atmosphere, and affects even those who would be perhaps forward in words to repudiate it. We can analyse it, and resolve it into its elementary notions. 1. There is a wrong notion of the Christian life, in its commencement and continuance, which works prejudicially. The writers of the Puritan age delighted in logical and exhaustive delineations of the work of God on the soul of man. • They insisted on a process of conversion, and a course of experience,” which were not possible to a little child, because the actual facts of the child's life were ignored. The child seems scarcely to have appeared above the horizon in the thought of these theologians; and if he did, the child was certainly not dealt with as the Saviour would have treated him. I have known parents, judging their children by an unreal standard, worry themselves about the salvation of the little ones, when it was clear to all intelligent beholders, estimating their position in the light of the New Testament, that they were leaning with the trust of a child on the great Redeemer.
2. A wrong deduction from the idea of predestination. All Christian people, apart from controverted questions, feel that individual salvation is of God; and therefore must lie within His purpose. This sentiment may lead to the neglect of means, and to forgetfulness on the part of parents that they themselves are the appointed instruments of blessing.
3. A wrong reaction against the theory of Baptismal Regeneration.
4. A wrong distrust of the child, and of the child's Saviour. People will doubt the reality and permanence of the work of grace in a child, when it never occurs to them to do so in the case of an adult; this is the more to be regretted, since all the presumptions are in favour of the stability of the child's piety, rather than that of an adult.
5. A wise prudence taking a wrong direction. Our Church government is in the hands of a democracy of spiritual men. The objection is, that it is not fit to entrust children with the ecclesiastical franchise ; and so the conclusion is drawn, exclude them from the Church altogether. But surely a more excellent way would be to limit the suffrage to members above a certain age.
III. The consequences of this erroneous public opinion are very grave indeed. What is the position of the children of the Church? How, in consequence of these wrong notions, are they regarded ?
1. They are regarded as simply in a state of nature, in the same sense as a poor hapless child born in St. Giles's, or in some far-off island of the Southern Sea, whither the sound of the Gospel has
Let no one imagine that in contending against this, we hold loosely the doctrine-“that the first man disobeyed the Divine command, fell from his state of innocence and purity, and involved all his posterity in the consequences of that fall; and that, therefore, all mankind are born in sin, and that a fatal inclination to moral evil, utterly incurable by human means, is inherent in every descendant of Adam." The children of whom we speak are in many important respects standing within the kingdom of God's grace. There is first of all the bias towards the true and good, which is communicated by virtue of the law of mental and moral inheritance. There follows thereupon the unspeakable advantage of Christian culture. At the back of all are the promises of God, and the Divine intention to make the family constitution a means of building up the everlasting kingdom of the Son of God. So that, in the exaggerated sense, the children of the Church are not in a state of nature; they may reasonably be expected to “grow up into Christ;" and, though needing “the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost,” will not require conversion attended by those phenomena which mark that of men who have been openly godless.
(2.) The Christian child is regarded as a wonderful phenomenon (whereas in these circumstances he should be no marvel at all), and so do arrangements are at present made within our Churches to meet the special needs of Christian children.
IV. The wrong of all this needs now to be explicitly pointed out. It is wrong:
1. Because childhood is the fit and favourable time for consecration to God. The dawn of responsibility is then, and surely we may then look for special grace. Depravity can be checked then; we should not allow the incipient stage of fatal disease to pass without taking vigorous measures to counteract it. The facts of the Gospel move deeply then. The doctrines of the Gospel, certainly looked at on their brighter side-for the light of love must have its shadows ever resting on that which is evil-are adapted to the natural joyousness of a little child. Christian duty is possible then. Christian habits can be formed then; and much of the stable grandeur of Christian life in mature years is due to the fact that no mean part of its excellence is habitual, and so unconscious. The whole life can be given to God thėn. And lastly, millions of children die, and if ever the Lord's, these must be in childhood His.
2. Because the interval of delay is so terribly dangerous. Many are as fit to join the Church at ten or twelve years of age as at twenty ; but not so fit at sixteen or seventeen as at the earlier period. At - Most per
that age thousands pass through a stage of backsliding, indifference, coldness, unbelief, from which only a remnant recover. Mr. Mander describes in graphic and earnest language the forces which come then to fight against the soul's salvation.
3. Because childhood is, as a matter of fact, the time when the life choice is made. The appeal here may safely be made, (1) To the experience of Christian people. Let any one ask himself, When did I come under the influence of the Gospel, accept Christ's salvation, and give myself to God? The answer will be, in thousands of cases, -In life's morning. (2) To their observation of others. sons joining our fellowships tell of early impressions and convictions ; of good seed buried long perhaps, but not lost, and are conscious of sin and shame that it was buried at all." (3) To the testimony of gifted and gracious men. With one or two examples we may well close. A New England writer, Dr. Witherspoon, says,
6. When the Gospel comes to a people that have long sitten in darkness, there may be numerous converts of all ages; but when the Gospel has long been preached in plenty and purity; and ordinances regularly administered, few but those who are called in early life are called at all." Richard Baxter was of opinion “that in a regular state of the Church, and a tolerable measure of faithfulness and purity in its officers, family instruction and government are the usual means of conversion, public ordinances of edification.” And Jonathan Edwards remarks : “Every Christian family ought to be, as it were, a little Church, consecrated to Christ, and wholly influenced and governed by His rules. Family education and order are some of the chief means of grace; if these fail, all other means are likely to prove ineffectual.”
But my space is gone. I have dealt with “ The Children and the Church as they are ; I hope shortly to speak of “The Children and the Church as they should be."
CAMELIA ÕPIE. AMELIA OPIE mournfully described herself as “a lone woman
through life, an only child, a childless widow." Yet with much that was sad there was much that was bright, and much in her to brighten the lot of others. The death, in 1847, of John Joseph Gurney deeply affected her; that of Dr. Chalmers soon followed; and in 1849 Bishop Stanley, of Norwich, her friend, added to her burden of sorrow. Still at the age of eighty-four“the beauty of age” lingered on her countenance; and at the close of life, though suffering much, she was buoyant and happy. On the 2nd of December, 1853, at midnight, she breathed her last, murmuring “ All is peace ! All is mercy!” Her remains were laid in the Friends' burying. ground at the Gildenscroft.
Her friend, Mrs. S. C. Hall, thus writes : “ Dear Amelia Opie! her nature was essentially feminine in its gifts, its graces, its goodness, its weakness, and its vanities; truthful, generous, and considerate ever.
Pure of heart, and upright in thought and conversation, her memory is without a blot; her precepts are those of virtue; and her example was their illustration and their comment."