What Shall We Do with the Child
May 6th, 1962 @ 10:50 AM
WHAT SHALL WE DO WITH THE CHILD?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-06-62 10:50 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock morning message entitled What Shall We Do with the Child? And the text is in the passage that we read from the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Judges, when Manoah prayed and entreated the Lord, saying, "O my Lord, let the Man of God which Thou didst send come again to us, and teach us what shall we do with the child that shall be born" [Judges 13:8].
When you study the child, when you look at the child, you look at the substance and form of life itself. Like a scientist through his microscope looking at a living cell – this is the nucleus, these are the chromosomes, these are the genes, this is the cytoplasm, this is life – so when a national leader or an ecclesiastical leader or an educational leader speaks of the child, he is speaking of the nation and of the school and of the destiny of a people itself. That is why everything bids for the child. The very continuation of all of the facets of life itself depend upon the bid for that child.
Who bids for the little children –
Body and soul and brain?
Who bids for the little children –
Young and without stain?
"I bid," said Beggary, howling,
I’ll buy them one and all,
I’ll teach them a thousand lessons-
To lie, to skulk, to crawl;
And I’ll bid higher and higher,
Said Crime, with an evil grin,
For I like to lead the children,
Through the damning paths of sin.
They shall swarm in the streets to pilfer,
They shall plague the broad highway,
Till they grow too old for pity,
And ripe for the law to slay.
["The Souls of Children," Charles Mackay]
Bidding for the children: the distillery bids for them. Except they are trained to absorb, to imbibe, to drink their wares, all of our distilleries would go out of existence; their very life depends upon their ability to teach our children to drink. The brewery depends upon its ability to persuade our children to drink. Were it not that they are taught to drink, the breweries would go out of existence. The reason cigarette stocks go up, and up, and up, and up, and fantastically up is because more and more and more are these great cigarettes corporations able to persuade our children to smoke.
In a city in another state, about two months ago, I sat in a restaurant in the middle of the afternoon. And unknown to me, a junior high school was close by; it let out after school, and the place swarmed with boys and girls, twelve and thirteen years of age. I never saw a girl in the swarm that didn’t smoke; twelve and thirteen years of age. One of the illustrious doctors in this church said, "When I went through school, my teacher said, ‘In the medical college, we’ve come to the chapter here on lung cancer. We will not discuss it for the incidence of lung cancer is so infrequent as not to be necessary to be mentioned.’" But today lung cancer is the commonest of all of those vicious, vile, ugly sores that destroy human life.
The cigarette company depends for its vastly increased merchandising upon getting our children to smoke. The dope peddler depends for his future upon being able to persuade young people to use dope. And the crime, and the white slavery, and the bawdy house, and the house of prostitution depends upon their ability to get girls and boys into their clutches to live; they all bid for the child.
An old Scottish shepherd lamented, "I have lost sixty-five lambs to wolves last night." And a stranger from America said, "And how many sheep did you lose." And the herder replied, "Don’t you know, no wolf will destroy a sheep as long as he can find a lamb." All of these vicious enterprises and all of these vicious, dark, sinister movements in national life depend for their existence upon their ability to win the child. For you see, you can do anything with a child, anything.
Environment may not be everything, but you can take a child and do anything with him. If you have been a student of Greek history, of Roman history, the father in every household had the right to say whether he wanted the child to live or not. When the child was born, it was brought to the father. I have read in a Greek papyrus, the birth of a child whose father was away, and the mother wrote to the father, and that was the letter, asking whether the child should be exposed or whether it should live. And if the father chose not to rear the child, and by the thousands and the uncounted thousands they did so, then the child was exposed; that is, it was placed out where the wolves would eat it, or the wild dogs would tear it, or placed on the side of a road where those of criminal intent would pick it up. And in the days of the Greeks, and in the days of the Romans, they took those little children and broke their bones and crippled them in unbelievable forms, and reared them up to be sat on the side of the road, or at the busy street corner to beg for those who had so crippled and destroyed them. You can do anything with the child.
When I was in Africa, I visited the king of Iran. I looked at his wives; nobody knew how many he had. There were as many as forty or fifty there that cruel day. And I asked, "How is it that he acquires such a vast array of wives?" And the answer was, "If a man was in debt in taxes to the king, leasing his land or otherwise, the king could say, ‘For the payment of the debt, do you have a girl? Then send her to me in payment for the debt.’" And as I was told that, I looked on one of his wives: she was a girl, apparently about thirteen years of age, and becoming a mother. You can do anything with the child.
When I was in India, one of the men said, "May I show you things you’ve never seen in your life?" And I followed the missionary into the heart of one of the vast cities of interior India. And in one of the places, I stood and I watched little boys, small children, little boys, they seemed to me to be no more of age than eight, ten, the oldest one about twelve, little boys; they were working at a forge. They were making iron hinges. They had never been bathed in their lives; and the soot and the dirt and the coal dust and the smoke had blackened their little faces and bodies almost beyond human recognition. And they were there pumping a forge. They were there stoking the fire. They were there making those iron hinges, things you wouldn’t believe that small children could do. And all the days of their lives, those children will be at that forge making those iron hinges, and will die early in life, when they reach eighteen, twenty, twenty-two, because of the terrible congestion wrought inside by the smoke and the flames and the fire. You can do anything with children.
When I was in Istanbul, I was the guest in the home of Dr. Black, who is the illustrious president of Roberts College. He married a Bulgarian, and for the years of his life, mostly, had lived in Bulgaria. And he said to me, "The whole world wonders and wants to know how it is that vile and godless and atheistic communism is able to suppress and to enslave a people." He said, "I think it is a representation of the powers of darkness. And I’m not able to give a final answer, but I can say some things. And the worst thing is this: they poison the minds of children. They seek as a state to take them out of their families and out of their homes, and they are indoctrinated by the state. "And," he said, "in my country of Bulgaria, these families who were not quiescent, who were not surrendered, these families lived in mortal fear and terror because their own children were used by the state to inform upon the activities of their parents." I said, "Dr. Black, do you mean to say to me that those children would tell the state secrets in the activities of father and mother that meant their own execution?" He said, "It is one of the dark and vicious phenomena of modern life. But children will do that; taught by a godless government that in delivering their own parents unto death they are thereby serving the great cause of the socialist revolution." You can do anything with a child.
And we are pitted against the most merciless and ruthless of all of the challenges of God this world has ever known; and our answer lies in our devotion to this question: "What shall we do with this child?" – teaching him as God hath commanded, in the love and in the nurture and in the admonition of the Lord [Ephesians 6:4], not to be a pawn, but created in the image of God [Genesis 1:26; Colossians 3:10], free to love our Lord, to grow strong in the power of His might and of His strength [Ephesians 6:10]. You can do anything with a child. And in the blessed gracious ministries of this precious church and congregation, our heritage from the Lord is numbered with these children. Count them all. These are our riches. These are our gems. These are our jewels. These are our possessions. These are the richest remembrances of God. And you can do anything with the child.
One of the reasons, as you know, that we have a Good Shepherd department lies in the pastoral experience of your preacher in the days of the Depression. I began my ministry when people queued up in bread lines and soup lines. And in my first church out of the seminary, I organized a ministry to the poor people of our county seat town. It was especially poor in western Oklahoma, windswept, eroded, dry, poverty-stricken. And in ministering to those children, there was a little girl by the name of EIla Mae Everett. She was one of those dirty, ragged, filthy urchins that grew up around a wagon yard, parents poor, she neglected, a typically filthy, dirty little urchin. We included her in those ministries of our dear church. It wasn’t long until, as she grew up, she confessed her faith in Christ. I baptized her. She never was dressed nice like well-to-do people dress their children, but her rags were always clean. And our church saw to it she had enough to clothe her nakedness and to feed her hungry body. Upon a day, she went to see some of her relatives out in the country way beyond, near Durant, Oklahoma. And while she was there, she fell into great pain and agony; and being out so far in the country, nobody knowing how to minister to her, her fever ran higher and raged higher until a neighbor, hearing of her, brought the little thing to the hospital in Durant. And when the doctor saw her, he said, "It is too late. It is too late." She had a ruptured appendix, and the raging fever had gone too far. And the doctor operating, no hope, and he sat down by the side of the little child, and in her burning thirst, she asked the doctor for water. "No," said the doctor, "not now. You can have no water." And the sweet little brown-eyed, brown-haired, long curls – God bless her memory – said to the doctor, "You may not give me water here, but I’m going to a place where there are rivers of water proceeding out of the throne of God [Revelation 22:1]. And I shall drink forever," and died. What you can do with a child: win them, teach them, guide them in the way of the Lord. I could not think of a more heavenly commitment, nor a more divine injunction, than this of receiving as from God the responsibility, the opportunity, the incomparably celestial open door God hath given us with these little ones.
And the response of these children is beyond anything we could realize or know. It is so very easy thus to talk in language of maturity, and to live in an adult world, until we persuade ourselves that children are not able to respond to the spiritual revelations and appeals and invitations of God. I may be mistaken in my judgment, but I have often said, it seems to me that I knew more of God, and His presence was more real to me, when I was a boy than when I have become a man. I don’t know how to explain that statement. There comes into my mind a poem by Thomas Hood:
I remember, I remember the fir trees, dark and high;
I used to think their pointed spires were pressed against the sky:
‘Twas but a childish fancy, but now ’tis little joy
To know I’m further away from God than when I was a boy.
[adapted from "I Remember, I Remember]
Somehow the great Lord God that made the child’s heart to beat, and put breath and life in his body, that same Lord God planted in the soul of a child a marvelous ableness, a quickened sensitivity to the things of God. And when the little fellow kneels to pray, he’ll pray as though God made him to kneel and to pray. And when he sings the little songs that are taught him in Sunday school, he’ll sing them with that childish reality that sees beyond what’s seeable, that penetrates into the invisible; a real world of heavenly celestial angelic spiritual reality. It is a marvelous thing how children can grasp the great spiritual truths of God. And therein lies our marvelous, marvelous, marvelous opportunity.
Said a precious little laddie
To his father one bright day,
"May I give myself to Jesus,
Let Him wash my sins away?"
Oh my son, but you’re too little
Wait until you older grow,
Bigger folks, ’tis true, do need Him,
But little folks are safe you know."
Said a father to his laddie
As a storm was coming on,
"Are the sheep all safely sheltered,
Safe within the fold, my son?"
"All the big ones are, my father,
But the lambs, I let them go,
For I didn’t think it mattered.
Little ones are safe you know."
Oh my brother! Oh my sister!
Have you too, made this mistake?
Little lambs that now are yielding,
May be hardened, then – too late.
["Too Little," Gospel Publication Bookroom tract]
The time to win a man is when he’s a boy; the time to win a woman is when she’s a girl. The time to win that great statesman is when he’s a child. And maybe in the providence of God we could have changed the course of history and of nations if these who lead so vilely and so terribly, so mercilessly and so cruelly, could have been won and taught and trained when they were little children. "What shall we do with the child that shall be born unto us?" [Judges 13:8].
I ran into an experience in the life of a pastor with whom I was holding a revival meeting. He is a dear young man; has a beautiful, marvelous wife, and the little children, oh, they’re just sweet. And I was seated by the family in their home, eating, and the oldest child was a little girl named Marilyn, Marilyn. Well, she was just so fine and so nice, and it just tickled me to death because she greatly objected to her name. She always thought of "Marilyn" in terms of Marilyn Monroe, and she greatly disliked it, she greatly disliked it. Oh, you know how children are; and we just talking and talking. So the father and the mother said, "Let me tell you about this child." She’s just a little thing. She wasn’t ten; I don’t know how old, can’t remember. She was seven, not more than eight. She was listening in the house to a radio program of God. And while a religious song was being sung, the little girl’s heart was strangely moved and God spoke to her; and she went to her mother and said to her mother she wanted to give her heart to Jesus. Well, this is back there in the East, where some of that old time, old fashioned, hard shell doctrine is known, and you don’t give your heart until you’re grown. So she called her preacher husband and said, "Our little girl Marilyn has given her heart to Jesus. And she wants you to know it." Well, he said, "I’ll be right home." So he came home, and the little girl told him what had happened. She had been saved, and she’d given her heart to Jesus, and she wanted her father to know it. So the father said, "Fine, fine, and we’ll just get down on our knees and we will tell God about it." So he prayed, and he told God about it. And then he said to his little girl, "Now you pray." So she prayed a childish prayer, and ended it with this: "And now dear Lord, if Benny Thompkins isn’t saved now, it’s going to be too late. Now Lord, save Benny Thompkins." And the preacher – you know every county seat town of some size has a vile character in it, the village "no account"; well he was their county "no account" – how come the little girl to know about Benny was this: many, many times, coming in drunk, he’d beat his wife and beat the children and they would flee out of the house, and they would run to the preacher’s house in order to escape the vicious blows of the drunken husband and the drunken father, and would spend the night at the preacher’s house where little Marilyn lived. So she got acquainted with Benny Thompkins, the vile wretch who so drank and cursed and beat his wife and his children. So, she prayed, "Lord, save him, and save him now, because it’s going to be too late." Well, the father, "Fine, fine. Now when are you going to give your heart to the Lord and go down the aisle of the church?"
"This Sunday," the little girl said, "this Sunday."
"Oh," said the father, "You’re so young. You’re so young. And we’re building a new church," they were just starting the new church building; "We’re building a new church. Wait until we get the new church built, and then you can come down the aisle and give your heart to Jesus."
"No sir," said the little girl, "I’m coming this Sunday. I’m saved, and I’m coming this Sunday." Well, between that day and between the Lord’s Day, that little thing made her way to Benny Thompkins’ house and saw him, and talked to him, and told him that she had given her heart to Jesus and that she was praying for him to be saved because it was going to be too late if he wasn’t saved now. Now you listen. When Sunday came, down the aisle came that precious little girl, and the father stooped to receive her, and to tell her how he thanked God for her, and to praise God for her. He couldn’t do anything else because she was just coming. And when he got through talking to that little child, he lifted up his eyes and looked: and down the aisle came that wretched, cursing, blaspheming drunkard, giving his heart to Jesus, and marvelously saved and converted. There wasn’t a deacon in the church that had prayed in faith like that; nor was there a Sunday school teacher in the church that had enough confidence to go to his house and tell him about the Lord. And the preacher himself, and the preacher himself had given him up as a character lost forever. But in the heart of that little child there was born the faith, "If I pray God and ask, and if I go to that vile man and tell him, God will save him now." Oh, the lessons, the lessons we can learn from little children – "What shall I do with the child that is born unto me?" [Judges 13:8].
Teach him in the love and the nurture and the admonition of the Lord [Ephesians 6:4], and he’ll be a crowning joy to you in God’s time and in God’s will. I am not saying there may not be times when they fall away. I’m not saying there may not be times when things happen. I do say you have the promise they’ll come back, they’ll return. Wait a while. Wait a while. "Wait, I say, upon the Lord." God repeats that, "Wait, and you will have the desires of your heart" [Psalm 37:4]. You’ll have the prayer of your life answered fully, richly, beautifully, gloriously. It will come; it will come.
Our part and our commitment is to take these children born unto us, our flesh, our blood, take these children and train them and guide them, pray over them, teach them; and God’s infinite graciousness and remembrance and kindness will keep that child strong for God, until the day when the Lord gathers us in unbroken circles, in families, around the great throne of glory.
Ah, I had rather be a part of this ministry, guiding, blessing, helping here, than to be the king of England, or the president of the United States, or the most exalted, exalted monarch in the earth. These, we are dealing with the units out of which God frames destiny itself: "Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not; of such, of these, this is the stuff out of which God makes the kingdom of heaven" [Matthew 19:14].
Now, while we sing our appeal, somebody you, give his heart to Jesus, somebody you, coming into the fellowship of the church; as God shall say the word and make the appeal to your heart, coming down that stairway at the front or the back, coming down to give your life to God, to put your family in the center of this church; a couple you, a family you, one somebody you; as God shall say, shall lead, make it now, make it this morning. If you have a child that wants to come, never interdict. We, we will pray, we’ll teach; never interdict, anytime a child wants to move toward God, rejoice, amen. That’s marvelous. Come, come.
I don’t know what happened this morning at the eight o’clock hour; we just had a little Pentecost. We had about eight or ten coming at eight o’clock this morning. Oh, it was great! Coming by baptism, coming by statement, coming by letter, coming by families, may the Lord give it to us again. As we sing this song, as we make this appeal, if God bids you, come this morning, while we stand and while we sing.