A Child in the Midst
September 17th, 1967 @ 7:30 PM
A LITTLE CHILD IN THE MIDST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-17-67 7:30 p.m.
I have loved every minute of this precious service tonight. What happened was this: as you know, on Sunday night I preach through the life of Christ; I have been doing it for a long time. Every Sunday night there is a sermon from the life of our blessed Lord; we are just following the life of our Lord through all the days of His ministry. Well, I came to this eighteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, and the first part of this chapter, the first fourteen verses are about little children [Matthew 18:1-14]. Well, I thought I ought not to preach on that here at this time of the year, so I went on; and you all do not keep up with it because it is too slow, but I followed through the rest of this chapter. Well, when I came back from my vacation, I was looking at my preaching ministry here on Sunday night, and I thought, “I ought not to do that; I ought not to wait until some children’s day or some baby day or some family day to preach on this.” Every Sunday night I’m following through the life of our Lord, and I have come to His words about little children. So I just said in my heart, “I’m going to follow the presentation of our Savior here in the Bible; and when we come to His message about little children, I am going to preach on it.” So that is why this service tonight. You would think we were having some special day or some hour dedicated to our little children. No, this is just Jesus; and we have come to this passage in the Bible. So, let’s read it together, and then listen to the message on the text.
If you listen to us on the radio, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas; and get your Bible and turn to the Gospel of Matthew, the First Gospel, chapter 18. And we shall read the first fourteen verses out loud together. Now everybody, reading together the first fourteen verses:
At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?
And Jesus 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 a little child, 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.
And whoso shall receive one such little child in My name receiveth Me.
But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in Me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
Woe unto the world because of offenses! for it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh!
Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire.
And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.
Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of My Father which is in heaven.
For the Son of Man is come to save that which was lost.
How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?
And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray.
Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones shall perish.
Now in the text, the Lord starts with a little child and then He turns His heart as though all of us were little children; then comes back to that one precious little child. Well, the text is the second verse of the eighteenth chapter of Matthew: “And Jesus called a little child, and set him in the midst” [Matthew 18:2]. A Little Child in the Midst.
We have lived our lives, and our fathers have, and our forefathers have, in the Christian dispensation. We live in the age of grace. It is almost impossible, if it is not absolutely impossible, for us to think of life as it was before Jesus came into the world. But for a moment we’re going to turn backward the centuries and look at children as they lived before our Lord filled this world full of His grace and mercy. It was a world of child, human sacrifice; which to us is unthinkable, it is unimaginable—but that was the ancient world. Gehenna, which our Lord uses for hell, for the fire of damnation, Gehenna is the Hebrew word for the Valley of Hinnom which runs down from Jerusalem. In that valley they worship the Ammonite god, Molech. Molech was a vast image of iron; and they heated the image by stoking a fire at the base. And Molech stood there with his arms cupped before him. And into those burning arms fathers and mothers placed their children in human sacrifice. So vile was that to the moral conscious of the prophet that he cursed the very ground on which such human sacrifice was made. And the name of the place, the Valley of Hinnom, Gehenna, became in Jesus’ nomenclature the word for the fire of damnation and hell. To us, that is unthinkable; that was the ancient and heathen world.
Second: it was a world of exposure, of infanticide. When I studied Greek in the seminary I read a Greek papyri, a letter, just an ordinary letter; it was written by a Greek in Egypt. And in that letter that I read, this Greek papyrus, he was instructing his wife to expose their latest child; he did not want it. That was a universal custom in the ancient world! The father in the home had the prerogative if he did not want a child to take the little thing and expose it; that is, he would place it on a mountainside, or in a ravine, or in a wilderness, and there the jackals, or the wolves, or the fierce beasts and wild animals would eat it up. To us it is unimaginable; that was the kind of a world before Jesus came.
Third: it was a world of mutilation. There might be a man who would not take his child unwanted and expose it to the wild beasts that it be masticated; so he would take the little thing and break every bone in its body, and twists its legs, and its feet, and its hands, and its arms, and maybe its head and its neck, and then raise it up a pitiful spectacle, then set the tragic result on the side of a street, or on the side of a road, and there let the little thing beg for alms. To us, it is unthinkable and unimaginable; but it was that kind of a world before Jesus came.
And in no small degree, where the influences of grace and love that flow from the blessed Jesus have not come, it is still somewhat today that kind of a world. I think there has been no thing I have ever seen in my life that burned itself in my memory as a day in the heart of India in one of their great cities. An American missionary from England said to me and my companion, Dr. McCall, he said, “Before you leave, I think you ought to see somewhat of the child labor in India.” So we got in his little English car and drove into the industrial section of a great city, and to a certain place. And I stood there and listened to the missionary as he described to me what was happening before my eyes. There were forges in that place, forges, and there were billows and instruments of iron; there were anvils and there were hammers. And in that place they were making iron hinges, iron hinges like you swing on doors. They were making iron hinges. And there was not a workman in that forge over ten years of age, not one. Those children that were working at the forge, and those children that were beating at the anvil, and those children that were making those hinges all were under ten years of age. Their bodies had never been bathed; as they worked in the smoke and the fire and the heat of that iron building, their bodies were literally caked with the soot and the dirt of the years and the years. And the missionary said to me, “Look at these children; there will not be one of them that will live beyond his early teens. For the fire, and the dirt, and the soot, and the smoke, and the flames will lead them into consumptive diseases; and not one will live beyond his early teens.” To us, it is unthinkable, it is unimaginable; but that is the world before the love and grace of Jesus changes our lives.
Now, I want to speak, second, of the Lord and the little child in the midst [Matthew 18:2]. Oh, what a difference when Jesus comes; and what a difference when the little child is placed in a Christian home! You know it’s a strange thing about us; I can’t tell you why, I don’t understand why, but I never thought anything about a school, grammar school; man, I hadn’t been to grammar school since I was, it’s hard to remember when I was in grammar school, I never paid any attention to grammar schools. I never paid any attention to the neighborhood particularly, and the children that are around, or anything about it. But I want you to know, when a little one comes into the home, the first thing you do is start looking around, looking around; look at all these kids— what kind are they? What kind of homes do they come out of, and how do they talk? And where’s the school? And look at this neighborhood, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and it goes on, and on, and on, and on; it doesn’t stop. It changes the whole world, the child in the midst. And Jesus placed a little child in the midst [Matthew 18:2]. What a vast revolutionary occurrence!
Now, some things about it. One: oh, how a Christian will respond in his soul, you couldn’t help it, how a Christian will respond in his soul to a little child in the midst. Why, you just lay down your life, you just give yourself; there’s no end, there’s no limit, there’s no horizon, it’s just everything in us. I was holding a meeting some years ago—I don’t know whether a thing like this could have obtained today or not—I was holding a meeting some years ago in the capital of the United States of America, in one of the great churches there. And in that revival, while I was preaching and one evening pressing the appeal, there came to me—to me I presume because I was the preacher, the evangelist—there came to me a little girl, a little girl; and in the sweetness and the way of a little child, she put her arms around me and began to sob piteously. And I said to her, “Well, sweet, why are you crying so? And why have you come here to me?” And the little girl said, “I’ve come to ask you to pray for my daddy, that he will come home.” For, the little girl said, “We are hungry and there is nothing to eat.” Well, just what kind of a fabricated creation, character, creature is it that could say, “This is my child,” and then turn and leave the little one to starve, to go naked, unclothed, unkempt, unprovided for? To us who are saved, it is unthinkable and unimaginable. We just are that way. To be a Christian is to be a fine father, a fine provider, you just will; it is a part of that regenerative process that makes a new man in Christ.
Not only provision, but in our church, the church to which we belong, this congregation, the fellowship of the saints; I was asked one time, “How did you do when you started there as the young pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas? How did you do? For the graph of the Sunday school and the work of the church had gone down over a long period of time. What’d you do?” I said, “I started right where God said for us to start. I got it out of the Book; I read it in the Book.”
“Well, what do you mean you started where the Book says, and you got it out of the Book?”
“Well, I will read it to you.” And I’ve told a thousand, thousand preachers this:
Now when they had dined, Jesus said to Simon Peter, Simon son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these? And Simon said, Lord, You know I love You. He saith unto him, Feed My lambs, feed My lambs.
He saith to him again, the second time, Simon son of Jonas, lovest thou Me? He saith unto Him, Yea Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee. He saith unto Him, Feed My sheep.
Does that mean anything to you as I read it? Why, the message is clear as though it were written across the sky itself: first, take care of My little ones; shepherd My children, minister to My little ones; then, shepherd My sheep. There’s the place to start. Do you want to build a Sunday school? I’ll tell you where to start: start with the children. Do you want to build a great church? I’ll tell you where to start: start with the children. You don’t need to worry about that father and mother; if you get that child and minister to that child that father and mother will be there if they have the love of Jesus in them at all; a church that loves and ministers to little children.
First, the providing in a home; second, the providing in a church, the shepherding in a church; third: the example before them. Ah, don’t you wish you had an hour just to speak of some of these things? Let me take one thing. I read where a little junior boy was importuned by his friends to go to the picture show on Sunday night. “Well,” he said, “No. I’m going to church.”
“Oh,” they said, “go to church? No. Come with us and go to the picture show.”
“No,” said the boy, “I’m going to church.” So the little fellow, by himself, came to church on Sunday night. Now he sat down. It was a much smaller church of course than this one. And the little fellow sat down in the church; and he was so proud of himself, that he’d refused to go to the picture show with his friends and had come to God’s house and to church. So he sat down in the middle of the congregation. Now he looked all around for his Sunday school teacher, and she wasn’t there. It was Sunday night. Well, he looked all around for his Sunday school superintendent; and the Sunday school superintendent wasn’t there. He looked around for a deacon that he knew; and the deacon wasn’t there. So the little boy said in his heart, “Well, I don’t suppose going to church on Sunday night is very important after all.”
Oh, oh, if I didn’t get anything out of the message, if I didn’t get anything out of the music, if I didn’t get anything out of the prayers . . . I cannot imagine a child of God who would not be blessed by coming to God’s house, but if he were not, I still would say it is worth it to get up, get in the car, or walk, or get on a bus and come down to church on Sunday night, just to help keep the lights shining, and the doors open, and if there is a little child in the midst to walk before him into God’s house on God’s day—our example.
And last: their introduction to the Lord. Now, that’s one thing you don’t need to worry about. Oh, in the years and the years of this pastoral ministry of mine, numbering forty now, that’s one thing I have really learned: you don’t need to worry about the souls of those children, no sir. That’s something God will do for you, and He won’t fail us. For example, and this is what I mean, suppose you have a bulb of a lily plant—you know, those dead, lifeless things they dig out of the earth about that big a round—you’ve got a bulb of a lily plant, or suppose you have a seed. And there it is; looks like a little rock, just as dead and inert as it can be. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t make that bulb grow into a beautiful lily. And all the king’s horses, and all the king’s men, and the scientists that live, and everybody else in government, in politics, in cultural social life, in the laboratory, all of the genius of mankind together could not make one of those little seeds sprout; he can’t do it, for life is a prerogative of God.
But you take that bulb and plant it, and let vernal showers fall upon it, and God’s sunshine bathe it; and in God’s genius it will burst, and grow upward, and downward, and flower to the glory of the Lord. Or that seed, plant it, plant it, and let God’s vernal showers bathe it, and let God’s warm sunshine fall upon it; and you will see that seed, dead and inert, you’ll see it burst with life and shoot upward, and shoot downward, and flower and fruit to the glory of the Lord. A little child is just like that. You don’t need to worry, you bring that little one under the influences of the grace of the gospel of the Son of God; you don’t need to say a word, and you don’t need to make one sentence of personal appeal, not at all. Bring that child under the influences of the grace of the gospel of Jesus, and the day will come when that little fellow will tug at your coat, or that little girl will pull at your skirt and say, “Daddy, I feel something way down deep in my heart.” And you’ll say, “Well, son, what do you feel?” And that little fellow will say, “I feel God calling, Jesus speaking my name. I feel Him in my soul.” That is God. That’s what God does for us. He has the prerogative of life, of regeneration, of salvation [Isaiah 45:5-7; Acts 4:12]; and God does that for us when we bring our children before the Lord.
Our time is spent. While we sing our song tonight, and while we make this appeal for our Savior, you, somebody you, give your heart to Jesus, would you come and stand by me? A family you, would you put your life with us in this dear church? A couple, or just you, in the balcony round, on this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the here to the front, would you come? Would you make it now? On the first note of the first stanza, into that aisle and down here, “Pastor, I give you my hand, I’ve given my heart to the Lord.” Or, “Tonight, I want to put my life with God and with you in this precious church.” Make your decision now, where you are, make it now; then when you stand up in a moment, stand up coming. On the first note of the first stanza, come tonight, decide tonight, do it tonight, make it now. While we stand and while we sing.
IN THE MIDST
I. Christianity and children
A. It is hard for us to
realize the ancient attitude toward children
II. The world changed by the presence of
A. Provision and a home
B. A church for them(John 21:15-16)
C. Example for them
D. Winning them to Christ