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Mark x. 14, 15. « Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein."
Matt. xviii. 3. “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven."
It is well known that opposers to evangelical sentiments advocate the native purity of man, and wrest the Scriptures where they can, to support their erroneous views. Among the passages they pervert, are those of our Lord above quoted respecting infants and children. These, it is maintained, teach the native purity of the human heart, and its fitness for heaven, without the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit. So Unitarians are accustomed to quote them, and so their writers comment upon them.*
My design in this paper will be to vindicate the passages above given against the abuse of them referred to. .
"Of such is the kingdom of God.” The phrase · kingdom of God may signify, either the kingdom of glory, or the Christian church. The words, of such, point out a resemblance, either natural or moral. Suppose the resemblance intended be natural, a resemblance in age, in circuinstances, in literal infancy; and that by the kingdom of God,' we are to understand the kingdom of glory. According to this interpretation, literal infants are entitled to the kingdom of glory. Still, it does not follow that they are natively pure: for they may need, as a qualification for heaven, and dying in infancy they may experience, the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit, and sprinkling of the blood of Christ. Some, we know, have been sanctified from the womb, which proves that others may be, and need to be, if they are saved.
Or suppose, retaining the idea of a natural resemblance, the words • kingdom of God be understood to signify the Christian church; and consequently that infants have some connexion with the church. This sense restricts the application to the children of pious parents, and goes not a step towards proving the native purity of such children. For their connexion with the church, whatever it may be, is grounded, not at all on the consideration of their own personal character, but on the professed faith and piety of their parents. “Else were your children unclean, but now are they holy."
* See Kenrick's Reflections on Matt. xix. 14., Whitman's Sermon on Regeneration, p. 31, and Richardson's Serinon on Conversion.
Suppose again, that by the words of such,' a sort of moral, and not a natural resemblance, is intended. Suppose our Saviour designed to signify, that in humility, teachableness, affection, confidence-traits which children often exhibit towards their parents, and which the young of other animals about as often exhibit towards their dams—his true disciples, the members of his kingdom, must come to resemble little children. But neither does this supposition, more than the others, teach the native moral purity or holiness of children. For these amiable infantile qualities, which our Saviour may be supposed to set forth as emblems of the spiritual graces of his people, are regarded on all hands as mere natural properties, not at all of the nature of holiness. They are so regarded by Unitarians, who maintain that children are not accountable agents, and not capable of holiness or sin, till they come to years of understanding, and know the difference between good and evil. And in the same light, these qualities of children are regarded by the Orthodox. They are regarded as mere animal affections, not necessarily holy or sinful, and not at all inconsistent with that native moral depravity, which the Scriptures * ascribe to our fallen race.
Matt. xviii. 3. “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
We have an expression of the Saviour's sentiments, or feelings, in relation to children, on at least two different occasions. The one, was that already considered, in which parents, or friends, brought little children to him for his blessing; the other, that now before us, in which he took a little child, providentially present, and employed him to illustrate an important lesson which he was inculcating on his disciples.
The case was this : On their way to Capernaum, the disciples had debated the subject, who should be the greatest in their Master's kingdom, supposing it to be a temporal one. Whether Jesus overheard them or not, he knew what was in their hearts, and on arriving with them at the house whither they went, he asked them the cause of their dispute. And now, having called the attention of the disciples to the subject of their debate, what, may we suppose, was his object in setting this little child before them? Was it to lecture on the moral state of the child by nature, as the physiologist lectures on the various physical properties and relations of the different animals, plants, and minerals which come under bis examination? Was it to instruct them in the nature of Adam's sin, in relation to his posterity ? Was it to prove that children are, or are not, affected by it? Was it to show that, though not guilty of his personal sin in eating the forbidden fruit, they are, nevertheless, in some way unclean? Or was it to show that all this is a libel on human nature, and that till we learn to sin by example, we are as holy as angels ? Obviously nothing of all this, but rather to teach his VOL. I.
disciples a lesson of humility? And herein is the pertinency of what he said in relation to children, “ Except ye be converted,” &c. Little children are naturally docile, confident, and submissive. At least, where this is not the case, they are poor examples to adduce in proof of native purity and freedom from sin. How natural and forcible it was, then, for the Saviour to speak of this little child as to natural character towards his earthly parent, to teach the disciples what they ought to be as to moral character towards their heavenly Parent. And, instead of teaching native purity, considering what men are, and the great, very great, remove at which they are from feeling towards God, as a good litile child does towards his parent, how great a change is here implied in order to true discipleship! How plainly in fact is here implied, not our native purity, but our native depravity! I submit it to the consciences of those who would derive the doctrine of native purity from this passage, whether, though it is not the main design of the passage to teach it, the doctrine of human depravity, or the original absence of all holy love, and the necessity of regeneration by the Holy Spirit, be not rather implied ?
The sense of the passage last considered is very similar to that of Mark x. 15, “ Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein." How are we to "receive the kingdom of God, as a little child ?”—To become “ as a little child," in a natural sense, or literally, we cannot. We cannot dispossess ourselves of what we know; we cannot unclothe ourselves of all that has been gathering upon us in the progress of experience; we cannot contract ourselves to the dimensions of childhood and infancy. It is not possible in the nature of things -nor, if it were, would it be required. Still, we must receive the kingdom of God as a little child; that is, we must come to possess, in a spiritual sense, such feelings of teachableness, simplicity, confidence, submission, love, and gratitude towards God, in order to be connected with his kingdom, as the good little child, in a natural sense, exhibits towards its affectionate and loving earthly parent. This, it is believed, is the sense ;-and so far as native purity or the contrary is concerned, Christ intended no other in all that he said of children.
In concluding these remarks, it ought to be remembered that the views we entertain on this subject lie at the foundation of all we are ever likely to feel or do in behalf of children and youth. If we regard them as innocent ard pure, we never shall feel much, or make much exertion, for their conversion and sanctification: - and it is a matter of great importance, therefore, that we have the mind of Christ. Whether parents and guardians, or instructers and ministers and Christians in general, we are to our babes and children principally what our views are as to their state and condition by nature. Our views influence us in the education we seek
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for them—in our government over them, the mode, measure and means of it—in the books we furnish them in the company we allow them to keep-in the business we provide for them—and in the alliances we encourage them to form in life. Indeed, whatever they may be, the influence of our sentiments on the native character of the human heart, follows down to eternity all those whose character we contribute to form ; and an appalling responsibility gathers around us in deciding whether we will believe the truth, and be sanctified by its healing efficacy, or admit the poisonous distillation of error, and wither and die under its influence.
Let every one who thinks Christ taught the native purity of the human heart, examine again before he settles down in that conclusion. Let him pray for the Holy Spirit, whose office it was to guide apostles in the way of truth, to enlighten his mind, and incline him in the way he should go. Let him remember, that God cautions him not to lean to his own understanding ; that the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; and that except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.
TRACTS PUBLISHED BY THE AMERICAN UNITARIAN ASSOCIATION.
(Continued from p. 309.)
No. 16. On some Corruptions of Scripture. This tract consists of “conversations" between a Unitarian minister, and one of his parishioners. The minister has commenced “a course of lectures on the New Testament," and has thrown out expressions respecting alterations and mis-translations in the commonly received Bible, which are very alarming to his unlettered but honest hearted hearer. The hearer comes to him with great warmth, to state his objections, and urge his complaints. A conversation thus commences, which is continued, at intervals, to the end of the tract, in which the minister explains to him what is meant by the word “manuscript,” and what by “ various readings," and what by “interpolations,” and what by “ ancient versions ;” and succeeds at length in satisfying him that his Bible, which he has held “so sacred,” is in several parts of it wrong and unworthy of regard.
Though the minister states, that “the translation in common use in this country is not always faithful to the original," he cites no instances, and exhibits no evidence, of the truth of the assertion. His attention is occupied in pointing out certain alleged alterations which have taken place in the text of the New Testament, since
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it was written. The passages on which he remarks are 1 John v. 7, 1 Tim. iii. 16, Acts xx. 28, Col. ï. 2, 3, and Rev. i. 11. Of these, in place of the common version, he adopts, and urges reasons to justify, the reading of Griesbach. It was our intention to have followed him, in his observations on these passages, with a view to correct misrepresentations, supply deficiencies, and present a fair and full exhibition of the case. But, considering the nature of such a discussion, and the length to which it must necessarily be drawn, we have concluded to defer it for a separate article.* Without replying, therefore, at present, to all the statements in the tract, we shall pass it with some general remarks.
It is not true, as is here insinuated, because some two or three disputed passages are not often “ quoted by learned Trinitarian writers at the present day,” that they have rejected them as of no authority. In respect to these passages, Trinitarians have no interest, as we trust they have no desire, but to know the truth. The passages are not at all necessary for the support of their systern. To be sure, if they are genuine, they may be thought to support it; but if they are not genuine, the evidence in favor of the Trinity, and the supreme Divinity of Jesus Christ, is not the less conclusive and irrefragible. Knowing this, as all learned Trinitarians do, they look at the evidence for and against these passages without bias; and according as it strikes different minds, they have arrived, in some instances, to different conclusions. In regard, for instance, to the disputed passage in Timothy, Dr. Knapp and Professor Stuart are clearly of opinion that the common version is correct; while Griesbach, whose learning and honesty are much extolled, was of the opinion, that the common reading of all these passages is not sufficiently supported. But did Griesbach, on this account, reject the Divinity of Christ ? Did he so much as doubt or hesitate on the subject ? Did he think the evidence in support of this doctrine materially weakened? By no means. « There are," says he, “ SO MANY ARGUMENTS for the true Deity of Christ, that I see not how it can be called in question ; the Divine authority of the Scripture being granted, and just rules of interpretation acknowledged. Particularly, the exordium of St. John's Gospel is so perspicuous, and above all exception, that it never can be overturned by the daring attacks of critics and interpreters."'t
It is presumed, learned Trinitarians of the present day regard the authority of most of the passages examined in this tract as in a degree unsettled. They do not reject them, nor do they think it necessary, and with the evidence already existing they do not feel authorized, to determine positively respecting them, one way
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* Our readers may find a pretty full discussion of this subject in the Panoplist, vol. vi. pp. 503–515. ** See Preface to vol. ii. of his New Testament. Edit. 1775.