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judice, or any other like it: and to be determined to quit any notion, when good evidence to the contrary is produced. 2. Another thing observable in children, and in which others ought to resemble them, is, freedom from pride, or humility. This temper also renders men teachable and tractable, and susceptible of improvement in knowledge and virtue; whereas conceit is a most effectual bar to improvement of every kind. They who are opinionated of their knowledge and wisdom, or of their eminent character, and noble exploits and services, will not bear to be admonished, nor submit to receive new truths and farther discoveries, how well soever recommended.
Here we cannot avoid recollecting those words of our Lord, where he expresseth his cheerful acquiescence in the success of his ministry, and says: "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth: because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes," Matt. xi. 25.
"Hid from the wise and prudent:" not from those who were really so; but from those who were so esteemed by many, and who were opinionated of their own knowledge and wisdom, and their reputation in the world; whilst the doctrines and truths of the gospel were understood, believed, and embraced by babes: men of inferior station and condition, meaner attainments, and less conceited of themselves, and perhaps despised by others. But not being greatly conceited, they hearkened to instruction, and discerned and embraced the truths taught and proposed to them.
3. Another thing observable in children is freedom from earthly affections, or indifference about the great things of this world; such as riches, honour, and preferment. This is so obvious, not only in little children and infants, but in all very young persons in general, that parents, and others of experience in life, are oftentimes not a little concerned at it, lest they should not duly regard their temporal interests. And they think it expedient to show them the use and value of these things, and by frequent observations infuse at least a small degree of ambition, and some worldly-mindedness into their constitution.
But our blessed Lord, without undervaluing or depreciating any of the comforts of this life, recommends and highly esteems, as you well know, a judicious contempt of all earthly things, and a determined preference of truth and integrity, the favour of God, and a title to the heavenly happiness, above all earthly honours, possessions, and enjoyments. And he often declares, that he who is not willing
to part with what he has of these things for his sake, if the circumstances he is brought into should require it, cannot be his disciple, or approve himself a lover of truth.
The necessity of resembling little children in indifference to riches, or in a freedom from inordinate affection for them, is illustrated by a history, which follows the text of the rich man, who, when directed by Christ to go and sell what he had, and give to the poor; assuring him withal, that then he should have treasure in heaven; "went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions."
The necessity of resembling little children in freedom from ambition, or an immoderate desire of grandeur and preferment, Christ taught his own disciples in particular. For, when they had asked him, "who should be greatest in the kingdom of heaven," supposing the kingdom of the Messiah would have in it much honour and power," he called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and said: Verily, I say unto you, except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself, as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven," Matt. xviii. 1—4.
4. Another thing, in which others ought to resemble little children, is freedom from custom of sinning, or innocence. Little children, and infants, such as most, or all those who were now brought to Christ, are universally allowed to be free from actual sin. They have as yet made no wrong choice; they have done no evil thing. And others, who have sinned, in order to partake of the kingdom of God, are to become like them, by washing away their sins with the tears of unfeigned sorrow, by reformation and amendment, by ceasing to do evil, and being free from the habitual and allowed practice of all iniquity.
Of such as these consists the kingdom of heaven. To those who in these things resemble little children belongs the kingdom of God. Such will receive the gospel. They will come into the kingdom of the Messiah. They will continue true members and faithful subjects of it, and finally inherit all the glory and happiness of the kingdom of God above.
V. Having considered these several particulars, let us now make a farther improvement in some reflections.
1. The doctrine of this text may afford comfortable thoughts concerning such as die in infancy, or in very early age, before they have done good or evil. Christ, speaking of little children, says: "Of such is the kingdom of heaven."
If he do not clearly say, of these, and such like children, yet he certainly says, of such as resemble them, is the kingdom of heaven. And if we should not suppose him to say expressly more than that, yet it is sufficient to fill us with comfortable apprehensions concerning those who are removed hence in very early life. For it cannot be easily admitted, that they should perish everlastingly, who are set before others as emblems of simplicity, innocence, and humility, and patterns of imitation and resemblance.
To these do not belong the characters of those whom Christ will bid depart from him. They are not workers of iniquity. They have not refused to entertain and relieve the afflicted and persecuted followers of Jesus on earth. He has declared, that " they who do not receive the kingdom of heaven as a little child, shall not enter therein." And can it be thought that little children shall be excluded?
2. This text teaches us to be cautious, how we disparage the human nature, and say, that it is in its original conception corrupt, depraved, and defiled. Our Lord seems not to have acknowledged any original depravity of our nature: for he recommended a resemblance of little children to his disciples, and others. And when little children were brought unto him, he expressed affection for them. He embraced them, and blessed them, and said, "Of such is the kingdom of heaven."
They who vilify nature, do, in effect, (though perhaps unwittingly, and undesignedly,) reproach the Author of
Solomon, after an attentive survey of the affairs of this world, and particularly the many disorders therein, was fully persuaded of this truth: "This only have I found," says he, "that God made man upright. But they have sought out many inventions," Ecc. vii. 29.
St. Paul, when he proves all men, both Jews and Gentiles, "guilty before God," Rom. iii. 19, alleges not their bad nature, but their evil practices.
Some indeed are early drawn aside into evil courses by the snares of this world; which occasioned the Psalmist to say hyperbolically of some wicked men: They are estranged from the womb. They go astray as soon as they are born," Ps. Iviii. 3. And in like manner David, after the commission of the great sins he had fallen into, recollects also his past sins, and says: "he had been shapen in iniquity, and in sin did his mother conceive him," Ps. li. 7: that is, he laments his too great propensity to some sins, and
humbly owns, that even in early life he had done things which he ought to repent of, and blame himself for. But he is here speaking of himself, or his own particular constitution, not of all men in general.
The scripture does not ascribe the difficulty of reforming great sinners to the badness of their nature, but to the evil habits they have contracted; representing it as very unlikely, that they should "do good, who had been accustomed to do evil, Jer. xiii. 23.
St. Paul reminds the Ephesians, that once in their Gentile state," they were dead in trespasses and sins," Eph. ii. 1. Which expression, however, can never be applied to infants. And with the apostle, a life in sin is not life, but death. As he says elsewhere: "She that liveth in pleasure, is dead, while she liveth," 1 Tim. v. 6. And what follows, shows, that he means practice of sinning, or actual and wilful sins. "Wherein," says he to those Ephesians, " in time past ye walked, according to the course of this world," Eph. ii. 2. -He proceeds: "Among whom also we all," we Jews also, for the most part, and generally, "had our conversation in times past, in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh, and of the mind; and were by nature," in our former state, before we were enlightened by the gospel," children of wrath," deservedly exposed to punishment," as well as others," ver. 3. "But God who is rich in mercy, for his great love, wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together with Christ. And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together, in heavenly places in Christ," ver. 4-6. The whole context shows, that the apostle is not speaking of punishment due to natural corruption, but to actual sin. Nor does he say, And indeed we all are, but “ were by nature, children of wrath." So we were when we "had our conversation in the lusts of our flesh." But God in his great mercy had through Jesus Christ delivered the Ephesians, and others, from that state of sin and misery.
We are weak and frail, and liable to temptations. But we can easily conceive how God may treat such creatures wisely and equitably. He will show his displeasure against the presumptuous, and even the careless. And he will reward the obedient, the careful and watchful. But we are not able to conceive how God should reject and condemn any for what is not owing to choice, but nature.
Some men will confess the corruption of their nature. But, I apprehend, it must be truer humility, for a man seriously, and sincerely, without reserve, to confess all his sins
in thought, word, and deed, against God and his neighbour. The former is only an acknowledgment of supposed corruption, common to all; and may be attended with spiritual pride, and scornful disdain of others. But to confess sincerely all our own sins and faults is true humility. This humility is a virtue in such creatures as we are, and the ground of other virtues. It is also acceptable to God. And "whosoever confesseth and forsaketh his sins, shall have mercy," Prov. xxviii. 13.
3. This history teaches us the right of young persons to be present at the worship of God: and seems to hold forth the duty of those under whose care they are, to bring them early to it. Some brought little children to Christ, that he might lay his hands on them, and bless them. And he received them, and did as he was desired. Though children do not understand every thing that is said, yet they have ears to hear, and eyes to see, and will observe. And gradually a reverence for the Divine Being, and an apprehension and persuasion of invisible things, will be formed in their minds, and such principles implanted in them, as will bring forth good fruit.
4. We may infer from this history, that it is not below persons of the greatest eminence for wisdom and piety to show affection and tenderness for little children. Jesus Christ is a good pattern for imitation in all his condescensions. And his disciples should do as he has done. Let us receive kindly, and, as we are able, recommend to the divine favour and protection such little children as Jesus himself, when on earth, received and blessed.
5. We hence learn, that all of us arrived to years of knowledge and understanding should see to it, that we bear a resemblance to little children: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.
Let us be always like them in freedom from prejudices, being open to conviction, disposed to learn, and make further improvement by all discoveries proposed to us.
Let us resemble them also in humility, or freedom from pride, and high conceit of ourselves; which obstructs improvement, excites to a haughty and imperious behaviour, and disposes to strife and contention, anger and resentment.
Let us resemble them in indifference about worldly things, or a freedom from an inordinate affection for riches, honour and preferment, pre-eminence and authority.
Lastly, let us resemble them in innocence, being as free from all evil practices as possible.
In a word, according to this observation of our Lord, we