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Christ's interest in little children. — Passages of Scripture. — General proposition deduced from them. — This proposition considered in particulars, namely, in faith, in knowledge, in love, and the will. The existence of a filial nature not inconsistent with moral responsibility. — Remarks.

ONE of the striking incidents in the history of our Saviour is the notice which he takes of little children. "And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them; and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God." Mark 10: 13, 14. And again it is said in Matthew [Matthew 18: 3], "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven."

2. Taking all the various passages which may be found on this subject, we may properly deduce from them the following general proposition, namely: It is necessary to possess and to exhibit towards our heavenly Father such dispositions, both in kind and degree, as exist in the minds of children towards their earthly parents.

The analogy between the two cases is very striking; and it was the clear perception of its closeness, and of the beautiful and important instruction involved in it, which seems to have so much interested the Savior’s mind. As he looked upon little children, he perceived that they felt towards their earthly fathers very much as he felt towards his own Father in heaven; and, with such a striking illustration before him of what he experienced in his own bosom, he could not fail to be interested. And this striking resemblance between the feelings of the child of man and the feelings of the child of God, as the former are directed towards the earthly parent and the latter towards the heavenly parent, will throw light upon and will help to confirm some of the leading principles in the relations of God and man, which have hitherto been laid down.

3. The general view, then, upon which we proceed in the remarks that follow, is this: — The earthly child, in its relations to its earthly father, is the representation, the earthly development, if we may so express it, of the relations of the child of God to his Father in heaven.

And this is seen, in the first place, in the matter of FAITH. It is very obvious, in regard to the faith which the earthly child has in its earthly parent, that it is a faith given, a faith
implanted. The filial confidence which it exhibits is not something which the child makes himself; nor is it, as some seem to suppose, the result of experience; but is innate. God himself is the giver of it. Implanted by the divine hand, and operating instinctively, the faith of the child is seen in the earliest movements of its infancy. And ever afterwards, in the various situations in which the child is placed, it retains all the attributes and exhibits all the results of an implanted or connatural principle; so much so, that, to withhold confidence from a father or mother, we all feel to be doing that which is a violation of nature.

4. And such precisely was the character of the faith which man possessed in his heavenly Father before he fell. The views which have already been presented in the chapters on the union of God and man in faith, are sustained by the beautiful analogy which is here presented to our notice. The first man was created in the possession of faith. We have endeavored to show, in a former chapter, that he could not have been created in any other way. To believe in God was a
nature to him; just as we find, at the present time, that it is natural for the child to place confidence in its earthly parent. And in the full restoration of man to God, (a restoration for which provision is made in the coming and atonement of Christ, and in the renewing agency of the Holy Spirit,) the principle of faith will be re-established, not merely as a variable exercise of the mind originating in the will, but as a permanent element or nature of the mind existing in harmony with the will, and with the will's consent. And those who are thus restored will become, in respect to their faith, "little children.”

5. Again, it is natural to the child to look up to the Father, and to be guided by him in matters of KNOWLEDGE. It is an established principle, in the philosophy of the human mind, that knowledge is and must be preceded by faith. The relations of the two we have already explained in part in former chapters. It is impossible for us, in the very nature of things, to accept as our teacher a being in whom we have no confidence. Faith, extending to all things which are its appropriate objects, is first given to the child as an inherent and essential part of his nature. Then, under the influence of that filial confidence which leads him to look to his parents for everything else, it is natural to him (and it would be against nature to do otherwise) to look for and to receive his intellectual guidance from the same parental source. We have evidence of this original and natural tendency of the mind in what we notice every day, every hour. By a law of nature, the mind of the father becomes the mind of the child.

It was in this manner that man, at his first creation, recognized God as his teacher. He believed in God, and received him constantly as a source of inward inspiration. God was his knowledge. Such was the state of things before he fell. And such will always be the state of things, whenever, in being united with God, he is brought back to the simplicity and purity of his estate.

6. Again, the child LOVES his father. The evidences of this are constantly exhibited. He rejoices with his father's joy, and weeps with his father's sorrow. The slightest injury to his father's honor is felt as an injury to his own. The true child would not hesitate to die for its father or mother, if the occasion presented. And this strong and permanent love is not a matter of calculation, but a nature. It is born with him, grows with him, lives with him. Blows will not beat it down; waters will not drown it; fires will not burn it.

At his first creation, man's love to his heavenly Father was like this, — a love implanted by a divine power and kept in operation by a divine presence. He afterwards lost it, it is true; but he could not have lost it, if he had not first possessed it. As a moral being, man allowed, and perhaps we may say, was expected and required, to sanction the principles and methods of his inward vitality, by his own voluntary concurrence. Failing to do this, in a way and under circumstances which the human mind does not now perhaps fully understand, God withdrew himself as the central element of his being; and he became from that time the subject of spiritual alienation and death. But in his restoration to God through Christ, he is necessarily restored to the possession of that divine nature from which he fell. As he is made anew in faith and knowledge, so he is made anew in love. The lost principle of holy love is not only restored, but becomes again, under the transforming operations of divine grace, what it was in the beginning, namely, a
nature, — an operative life, moved by a power of movement existing in itself. In other words, it once more becomes in relation to God what the child's love is in relation to its earthly father.

7. We proceed to remark, further, that the will of the child is naturally merged in the will of the father. There is a nature in this case, as there is in the others. The filial will is not harmonized in the parental will as a matter of calculation, but as the result of a mental tendency. There are, undoubtedly, some variations from this view, in consequence of the power of choice inherent in the will, and particularly in consequence of man's fallen condition; but what has been said is correct as a general statement. Accordingly, yielding readily to the tendency of their mental position, little children do what they are commanded to do. Sometimes it will cost them trouble and suffering; but this does not alter the general direction and the general inclinations of their feelings and actions. Subjecting their own wisdom to a higher wisdom, they have an instinctive feeling that their appropriate and first business is to harmonize with the expression of a parent's will. And so strong is this tendency to a union of wills, that very frequently they act without knowing what will be the end of their action. It is natural to them to leave everything with their father, — the mode, the time, the object, and the results of action, as well as the action itself.

8. And this, in a remarkable manner, represents the state of things as it existed in man at his first creation. The will of Adam, before he fell, not only harmonized perfectly with the divine will, but naturally; that is to say, without effort, and by an implanted tendency. It is so with all holy beings now. It was eminently so, (as I think we may safely infer from the passages which indicate his submission and union of will,) with Christ, the second Adam; and it will be found to be so with all those who are restored again and perfected in Christ's image. What God chooses, they choose. What God wills, they will. The will becomes in relation to God what the will of the affectionate and dutiful child is to its earthly parent.

9. These views help to the better understanding of what was said in a former chapter in relation to the different kinds of union. Some of the remarks to which we refer were these: “Union, as we desire to develop it in this treatise, is not merely a treaty of peace, nor even the closer compact of alliance; but a combination or union of nature; not the union of juxtaposition, but of filiation; not the union of convention, but the union of life. It is to this union that all who are born of God must at last come; — not uniting with God, as man unites conventionally with his fellow-man, in the formation of civil society, or for any other purpose, but with that union of life with life, which binds together the father and the son."

With the illustrations which have just been given, it is to be hoped that this important and fundamental position will be more clearly understood. Undoubtedly the analogy would be more perfect, if the earthly parents and children had not fallen into sin. But still, with all the drawbacks which are attributable to that circumstance, it strikingly indicates what man was in the beginning, and what he is destined to be in the future; — not merely a servant, not merely a conventional coadjutor; but a son in the image of his Father, coming into existence in a true descent, and by the principle of a divine filiation.

10. It may be proper here to take into consideration, in a few words, the great objection which so frequently presents itself. It will be likely to be said that the idea of union with God, on the principle of a
nature, is inconsistent with moral freedom. It may be replied, in the first place, that the subject of moral freedom, considered in any point of view, and in the light of any hypothesis, is attended with difficulties, when taken in connection, as it always ought to be, with the continual and perfect superintendence of God. Some of the ablest mental philosophers have recognized this difficulty without attempting to solve it; and we think, on a careful examination, it will not be found to be greater on the view which has now been presented, than it is on others.

11. With this general remark kept in mind, we proceed to the consideration of this topic in another light. Our general view of the matter, examined in a few words, is this. We take it for granted that the fiial life, the life of the child, is properly designated, and that it is in fact is, a NATURE; not, however, a material nature, which is wholly inflexible in its modes of operation, but a mental nature Certain it is that men generally, perhaps we may say without exception, speak of the affection of the son or daughter as a natural affection. At the same time we never regard the exercise of the affection, although it is allowedly an exercise of nature, as inconsistent with moral obligation. That is to say, the filial affection is a nature which is susceptible of a moral character. Accordingly, In the case of all persons, who freely and cheerfully allow the filial nature to act itself out as a nature, it must obviously be regarded as a nature which harmonizes with choice, and is sustained by choice. In other words, wherever it freely acts itself out as a nature, it is chosen and approved and aided as a nature by him who is the subject of it. All the powers of the mind are then consentingly and approvingly given in the right direction. And, in consequence of this harmony of a free choice with the instincts and tendencies of nature, we always look upon such persons with moral approbation.

God himself commends and approves such. "Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee." It is natural to honor our father and mother; and yet there is so much of a moral quality in such honor that God distinctly approves and rewards it.

12. And, on the other hand, the obstruction of the operation and tendencies of this implanted nature by efforts of the will is regarded as an immorality. Such cases sometimes occur. There are some persons, who not only fail to sustain their filial nature by the hearty concurrence of the acts of the will, but resist its tendencies in various ways, and finally prostrate it. The contest however, is generally a severe one. God respects his own work, and delights in it; and, accordingly, he endeavors to sustain it when it is assailed. But he also respects and delights in that moral freedom and choice, which he has given to man. And whenever men, in the exercise of their volitional power, have resisted the laws and operations of God in the soul (we mean now the natural laws and operations) to a certain point, he abandons them; be leaves them to themselves; and they become unnatural. They have destroyed their nature, because God has ceased to sustain their nature against the neglect and opposition of their own wills. So that it is proper to say, (and there is fearful import in the words,) that the unnatural son and daughter, that the unnatural father and mother, are left of God.

A nature which can thus be sustained by our adoption and concurrence, or injured and sometimes destroyed by our opposition, harmonizes entirely with the principles of morals. So that the nature which constitutes the child what he is, is not more a filial nature than it is a moral nature.

18. And, in like manner, in once more becoming the children of God, we receive and retain a filial nature, but without ceasing to possess a moral nature. Much is involved in that free and full consecration which every true Christian is supposed to have made of himself to his heavenly Father. As free and moral agents, we consent now, and forever, if we do what we ought to do, that God shall be a truth, a life, a nature in us; which he never has been and never will be without our consent. Adam before he fell, Christ in his humanity, angels in heaven, all holy beings everywhere, either have existed, or do now exist, as holy beings, by means of the operation of God in the soul; and yet without any alienation of their moral attributes and responsibilities, because they have received this operation with their own choice, and have sanctioned it by their own approbation.

With these explanations, we repeat that there is no true place of rest and safety, short of the reestablishment of those relations which we have endeavored to illustrate. Accordingly, we cannot regard it as safe for any one to stop in the progress of inward experience, until he feels and knows that he has become, in the Scripture sense of the terms, a LITTLE CHILD; not only having a child's name, but a child's
nature. And when this relation is reestablished, not as a name merely, but as a reality, not as a mere conventional arrangement, but as a true nature, — then, and not till then, we are brought into true union with our heavenly Father.

14. One remark more only remains to be added. It is on these principles, and these only, that we can make our position harmonize with our prayers. When we pray, we address God as our
Father. This implies that we either are, or ought to be, his children. And our language throughout in prayer corresponds to the idea that our true position is the filial position. We pray that we may distrust and renounce ourselves, and look only to God for guidance and support. Recognizing our inability to supply our own wants, we pray for faith, for wisdom, for love, for the guidance of our wills. We go to him, in form at least, just as the little child goes to its earthly parent. If we will go in the same sincerity, our heavenly Father will recognize the relationship, and we shall thus become the true sons of God.