A CHILD IN THE MIDST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-11-69 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message on Mother’s Day entitled A Child In The Midst, and it is a text found in the eighteenth chapter of the First Gospel of Matthew:
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 that is the title, A Little Child in the Midst—
And Jesus 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.
And whoso shall receive one such little child in My name receiveth Me.
I am therefore to speak first of the importance of the little child, and I speak of it first in God’s sight and in the sight of the Lord Jesus. The little child is the epitome of greatness in God’s sight. All of the trusting virtues that characterize a darling little boy or a little girl, those are the virtues in God’s sight that make a man or a woman great.
With doubt and dismay you are smitten
as up from the hilltop you plod.
Then friend, get close to a baby,
for a baby is nearest to God.
Your head is encompassed by darkness,
with your feet stuck fast in the sod.
Nearby is the light of a baby’s smile,
and back of the smile is God.
I repeat: the virtues that are exhibited in the trusting light of a little child are the virtues that God said are greatest among the citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Now, not only is that true in God’s Book and in God’s sight, but apparently it is true psychologically and pedagogically.
Some time ago, I went to our librarian, Mrs. Lively, and I said, “I want you to give me some books about children, training children.” Well, to my amazement, she got a large satchel full and put them in my hand, and I wagged out to my study in the parsonage, and I looked through those tomes, and I was overwhelmed and surprised at what I read in those books. For example, a world-famed mathematician said, “I have been gradually working myself down from the graduate school in mathematics to the kindergarten.” Then he added, “And finally I have come to the nursery, teaching mathematics!” Why, they overwhelm me by what they say in those books!
Now, I haven’t time even to begin to speak of all of those things they say, but I want to show you the type of an experiment they’re talking about in teaching children. Now, they start teaching that child how to reason and how to think, and they start almost the day the child is born. For example, they’ll take a bottle. And we don’t nurse our children today, not many mothers; I nursed when I was a little baby in my mother’s arm, but today they give them a bottle. Now, there are books on that too, and I can’t make up my mind about it, but the modern way is to give the child a bottle, and the mother herself doesn’t nurse the baby.
So they start off with these experiments. Here is a baby, and they give the baby a bottle, and the nipple on top, and the little baby gets his dinner out of that bottle. So the psychologist turns the bottle around the next time, and he gives the baby the bottle with the blunt end first, and the little baby has to figure out how to turn over that bottle in order to get to the nipple to get his dinner.
Now, that’s these psychologists and how they soon they start checking the intellectual reasoning processes of that little youngster. And when I look further into those books, these psychologists say that our lives are determined back, and back, and back, and back, and back until finally they write they are determined in babyhood, and that by the time the child is six years of age, the character and the turn and the life of the child is already set. I never read such things in my life, not in my life, what these teachers, what these pedagogues, what these psychologists are finding out how life is put together, and mostly they say it is done in babyhood and in small, younger childhood. Well, it overwhelms me.
Now, in these influences of life, first there is the mother, and we would expect that. Nero’s mother was a murderess. Is there any wonder then at Nero? Lord Byron’s mother was proud and volatile and ill tempered. Is there any wonder then that Lord Byron would write on his thirty-sixth birthday, after which he died, “My days are in the yellow leaf. The flowers and fruits of love are gone. The worm, the canker and the grief are mine alone,” at thirty-six years of age? [On This Day I Complete My Thirty-Sixth Year, Lord Byron, 1824].
The Wesleys’ mother was a godly woman, and you see it in Charles who wrote the songs, and John who preached the gospel. The mother of Charles Haddon Spurgeon was famed for her graces. Is there any wonder of the lovely life, adoring, reverent and worshipful, of the great London Baptist preacher?
Spurgeon much loved and revered his mother. And they were walking one day in the garden, and he put his arm around her shoulder—she was a very small, dainty little woman—and he put his arm around her shoulder, and she said to him, “Charles, I prayed that God would make you a preacher, but I did not think he would make you a Baptist preacher.” And he replied, “Mother, God always gives us more than we ask for.”
George Washington’s mother was a noble and glorious woman. The mother of Sir Walter Scott loved painting and poetry. And you see the reflection of that mother in the lives of those children, and, of course, the influence of the home, the father, the children; the type of family.
I have said, you do not know how many times, as I talk to a couple either beginning to build the home or about to tear it apart, about to get a divorce and orphan the children and break up the house, I tell them, “You know, if you will do these four simple things, you’ll have a blessed home, a precious home and one that is bound together like steel cables.” But my problem in talking about them is they’re so simple that they’re unbelievable, but these four simple things about the home, and keeping the father and the mother and the children together in love and in Christian words and nobility of life, these four things: one, when you eat, bow your head and say grace at the table. Now, I tell them that I realize that hogs don’t do that. They just dive in and eat, I know. And dogs don’t do that, but you ought to do that. Before you eat, bow your head and say grace at the table. One: say grace at the table before you eat; thank God for what you eat.
Second, number two: at one of those tables or before the evening closes, read a passage out of God’s Book and then pray. You can do it at the breakfast table, which is the way we do it at our house. You can read a passage out of God’s Book, then bow your head, and it’s sweet if all of you will pray. It is sweet if you will join hands around the table and all of you pray, including the little children. Teach the little child. When I go back to those psychological books I read, it is astonishing how early in life they learn to do things, and they will learn to say a little prayer.
All right, three; three: before you go to bed at night, dad, mother, husband, wife, just you two, the children are in bed or you don’t have any children yet, just you two, you get down on your knees and pray out loud where the other one can hear you. Well, you say, “Now, why can’t I pray in my own mind? Why can’t I just lie there in bed and pray? Why do I have to pray out loud where that other one, my wife or my husband, can hear me?” Well, there is a very distinct and fundamental and pragmatic reason for that. If you’ve been mad, and you’ve been sore, and you’ve been grouchy, and you’ve been irritable, and incompatible, and caustic, and sardonic, and critical, and sarcastic, if you’ve been that in the day, and you get down there on your knees and you start praying out loud where the other one can hear you, you sure feel like a rat. You feel like a dog. You feel awful! You just do. You just do. And it isn’t long, when you’re down there on your knees talking until you’ll be getting right with God, and that other partner will be getting right, too. They’ll be thinking on the inside of their souls, because when God’s bowed down His ear to hear what you have to say, God’s also speaking in the heart of that other one.
Four: get up Sunday morning and put on your best clothes and come to church. Now, I got Sunday clothes. I have had them all my life. When I was a little boy, I had Sunday clothes. In fact, I had very few others when I was growing up as a boy, but I had Sunday clothes. And I’ve got them today, and I have shoes that I don’t wear except to preach in. I don’t wear these shoes any other time except when I am a-preaching; and not only that, I got shoes that I wear just to preach in, in the morning, and I got shoes that I wear just to preach in, in the evening. And one day, I said to myself, “I’m in a rut, because these are my Sunday shoes, and these are my evening shoes.” So I said, “I’m going to change them around. I’m going to wear my evening shoes in the morning, and I’m going to wear my morning shoes in the evening.” And I want you to know I felt like I had desecrated God’s sacred pulpit here when I changed my shoes. Now, you dress up, and wash behind your ears, and get real clean, and put on your finest clothes, and come to church on Sunday. And dress up all the children, and bring them along with you in their finest togs. Coming before the Lord, we got to have clean hands. Isn’t that right? We’re going to wash our hands. We’re going to have clean ears. We’re going to have clean faces and heads. We’re going to have clean bodies when we come before the Lord, and we’re going to put on our finest clothes. We’re going to dress up and go to church.
If you’ll do those four things, you’ll have a home that is tough. You couldn’t kick it apart. You couldn’t hammer it apart. You couldn’t pull it apart. One: before you eat, pray, thank God; say grace at the table. Two: at one of those meals, read out of God’s Book and pray. If you’ll join hands and all of you pray, it’ll be sweeter. Three: before you go to bed at night, just you two, husband and wife, get down on your knees and pray out loud where the other one can hear. And four: dress up and go to church on Sunday. It’ll never fail, it’ll never fail; the influences of the home.
And I haven’t time to speak of the influences of the community and of the companionship of the child, and I haven’t time to speak of the influences of the schools. I say just one word about the church: to my great sorrow, and I mean my deep disappointment, what I have learned and what I have read says that the influence of the church is almost nothing on our youngsters. You cannot know how sad that makes me feel. I’m just searching in my soul now what to do, and what answer we shall bring back to God.
Now let me give you an illustration. They took a survey of one of our conservative, fundamental denominations—and I speak of that because I am not talking about a liberal communion, a liberal denomination, a denomination that just washes out in the world, but I am talking about a great conservative denomination, a fundamental denomination, one that believes in the Bible and the Christian life. Now, in the survey of the youngsters, of the children and the teenagers in that denomination, they found out that there were not four percent of them, there were not four percent of them that showed any difference in life or character or manner of living than the community to which they belonged. They were just like all the rest. If all the rest, did this, they did it. If all the rest did that, they did it. If all the rest did the other, they did it. And their Christian training had no changeable, noticeable factor in their lives at all; only about four percent of them. Well, of course, that means that ninety-six percent of the children and teenagers reared in those churches and in that denomination, ninety-six percent of them were unaffected by what they learned at church whatsoever. Well, that just nearly killed me, and I wondered: is that true with us? Are the young people or the children that we rear in this church, when they get out there in the school and out there in the world, are they just like all the rest of them? Are they? There’s no difference in them at all? Whatever the other kids do, that’s what they do? And what we train them and teach them has no repercussion in their lives at all? Oh, it’s just a nightmare to think, to think that such a thing might be true with us! And the denomination I’m talking about, it’s not a Southern Baptist, but the denomination I’m talking about is as fundamental as we are, and as noble as we are, and as Bible-believing as we are, even though they’re not Baptists. Well, I’m just saying that if such a thing is true, we ought to review all of the methods and approaches by which we mediate the mind of God that was in Christ Jesus. Dear me, how important this assignment is. Now we must hasten.
I am going to speak now about the response of the child. When you bring a child to Sunday school and to church, just as surely as the Lord lives, just that surely, just as surely as God lives, will that child respond. You cannot keep the child from responding, he just will. I sometimes illustrate that by a seed. A seed may look hard or it may look like a little stone or a little rock or a little pebble, but if it is a genuine seed, on the inside of it is a little germ of life, a little spark of God, a little something that lives. And take that seed and place it where the warm showers will fall on it, where the warm sunshine will bathe it, where the earth is moist and the environment is conducive, and that seed will come to life. It’ll burst apart and it’ll grow up! Maybe a beautiful flower, like that.
Now, a little child is exactly that way. On the inside of that little child there is a part of God, an image of God, a likeness of God, and when you place that child in a certain environment—in Sunday school, in Training Union, in church—that little thing will start vibrating, quivering in his heart. And sometimes he can hardly talk to you because he’s quivering in his lips, and many times tears falling from his eyes. That’s God.
Now we come to this great question that I have wrestled with for years, and I am this morning going to say what I think we ought to do. Oh, I’ve never had anything in my life that was as difficult for me as this decision that I am going to announce this morning. When the child is converted and trusts Jesus as his Savior, when should that child be baptized? When? What age should a child be taken into the church?
All right, as I look through the religious experience and practices of other communions and other faiths, this is the type of a thing that you will find. In the Jewish religion, the first Sabbath after the boy’s thirteenth birthday, they have what they call a bar mitzvah service—a bar mitzvah. When I was in Jerusalem at the Western Wall—used to call it the Wailing Wall—I attended and took part in two of those bar mitzvah services, and Lee Roy was with me, and we both shared in them. They’re quite interesting, I assure you, part of it especially. And it is a festive occasion. Now, when the boy has passed his thirteenth birthday, the following Sabbath, he is taken into the synagogue as an adult. He becomes an adult member of the synagogue. He is responsible for his own behavior, and he fasts and prays and worships like his father. So in the Jewish faith, the boy is thirteen when he becomes a member of the congregation, and they celebrate in that interesting bar mitzvah service.
Now in so many of our pedobaptist communions, so many of them, now as you know they will sprinkle a child—they call it christening—they baptize the baby when the baby is just a little thing in the arms of father or mother. So, most of those communions—almost all of them—will have what they call a confirmation service when they are old enough to understand and to realize what the parents did when they had the little thing christened as an unconscious infant. They will have a confirmation service, and almost always that confirmation service is when the child is twelve years of age, twelve years of age.
Now, here has been the problem that I have wrestled with for over forty years. A mother will come to me, and many times her husband by her side, and they will sit down with me and they will say, “Now, pastor, this child has trusted Jesus as his Savior,” and the child may be five or six years of age. The child has trusted Jesus as his Savior. “Now, it says in the Bible that upon the trusting of Christ as Savior, you are to be baptized [Acts 2:38], so this child should be baptized.” Now, I know there is something wrong with that. For in my working with these children for years and years—and as you know, when the child is received, the child is to be brought to me, and I talk and pray with the child personally, so I am talking about the experience of years with uncounted numbers of children.
Now I know this. Had I not read any books about it, I would have known this. The child is growing. His feet are growing, his ears are growing, his nose is growing, his hand is growing, and his heart is growing. His mind is growing, his spiritual life is growing, he is maturing, and I know that that child has not reached that maturity by which he ought to be a member of the congregation of the church, an adult member of the church. The child is growing. He is still young and immature! But I have not been able to convince the father and mother of that, so I have heretofore taken little children—they’re like babies almost to me, little children; they can’t stand on that baptistery—I hold them in my arms, and I take them into the baptistery, and I set them down at the front of it where there’s an elevation, and I have baptized some of those children at very tender ages because of the insistence of the father and the mother.
And every time I have done it, I have had a self-accusation of conscience in my soul. I know I am not doing right! I’m not doing right. And the reason I am confirmed in that is, down the aisle in this last week of revival that we had, we had about seven or eight come down that aisle and say to me that thing that I just have heard so many times: “Pastor, I was baptized when I was six. I was baptized when I was seven. I was baptized when I was eight, and I can’t,” some of them say, “I can’t even remember it.” And some of them say, “I was not old enough to understand, and now I have really trusted the Lord, I’ve been saved, and I ought to be baptized.” And all through this congregation—and I call them my second milers, God bless them; I call them my second milers—every time anybody has courage enough to do that which is the right thing to do, God somehow doubly blesses them, but most people won’t do it. They won’t do it. There’s a Sunday school teacher, and she was baptized when she was six years old, and possibly can’t even remember it, but it takes courage to come down that aisle. “I’m a Sunday school teacher,” or “I’m a deacon,” or what, “and I’ve been saved and came to the knowledge of Christ as my Lord after those days, and I need to be baptized like it says in the Book” [Matthew 28:19-20].
All right, now my conclusion: this message is addressed to adults. When I hold that Book in my hand, it is addressed to adults. The whole faith, start at the first part of Matthew and go clear to the end of the Revelation, and it is addressed to the mature mind, to the adult mind, all of it! And when Paul preaches and says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” [Acts 16:31], and when Peter preaches and says, “Repent ye, and be baptized because of your remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” [Acts 2:38], the whole thing is addressed to adults, to adults. It presupposes maturity of mind, an adult mind, all of it, all of it, all of it.
Now no child should be baptized until he reaches that maturity of understanding. The salvation of the child is in Jesus, not anything we can do. Whether I baptize the child or whether I don’t baptize the child that has nothing to do with his salvation. What I can do, or what this church can do, or what all mankind can do does not enter into somebody’s salvation. I could baptize them every day. I could scrub them with lye soap, but that doesn’t wash their sins away or the stain out of their hearts, that’s God.
So, this is what we ought to do: we ought to teach the child to love the Lord Jesus, and anytime the child responds, bring the little fellow down the front. And you’ve heard me say that world without end, and I still believe it. Don’t interdict when the child says, “I want to tell the pastor that I love the Lord Jesus,” or, “I feel in my heart God has called me, and I ought to trust the Lord and tell men and angels.” Bring the child, and let me pray with the youngster. Sometimes I may have you take the little fellow back to the seat, or most of the times, I’ll have you stand down here and let him stand here before the congregation confessing his faith in the Lord. Do just that: be responsible for the life of the child, and teach him.
But before the child is baptized, there ought to be that maturity of mind whereby he takes his place in the congregation of the Lord as an adult; where he is a member of the church, consciously so, volitionally so, understandably so, reasonably so. And that means we ought not to baptize the child until—now, I’ve been pressed for that age. “Now pastor, tell us what, and we’ll try to do it. When?”
“Well,” I say, “I’m not God, and I don’t know,” and children greatly differ, so what I am saying now has to be out of a generalization of all of our children and of all of our families.
So let’s say it like this, the child ought not to be baptized, he ought not to be baptized––give him time to understand––he ought not to be baptized until he becomes a Junior in the grading system of the church, and that means until he’s nine years of age; nine, ten, eleven, twelve, in that age there. But the child ought not to be baptized when he is a Beginner: five, four and five, or our Primary, six, seven, and eight.
Let’s take the youngster and teach him the meaning of membership, and the meaning of following baptism, the Lord in baptism, and the meaning of what it means to become a member of the congregation. Let’s do that, and dear father and mother, if you will listen to your pastor and if you will follow that, it will mean so much to that child in the years that are to come because we grow in our minds and in our understanding. And as I work with these little children, I can tell an enormous difference between a Primary child and a Junior child. They just change almost overnight. And to teach them and to train them; and then when they’re baptized, let it be the most meaningful thing in their lives.
How many times are they to be baptized? Just once, really. We may be immersed, but it could be meaningless. We are to be baptized one time in our lives, just once, and when that time comes, lets make it the most meaningful that we possibly can in the life of that youngster. And I think you will be glad, and I think you’ll be happy, and I think it will be increasingly, preciously, memorably meaningful to that youngster through all of the years that are to come.
Now, I haven’t put a climax to this sermon. I don’t have time, so we’ll stop right here. In a moment we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family to put their lives in the fellowship of the church, a couple to come, or somebody you taking Jesus as your Savior—on this Mother’s Day, on this home day, oh, what a precious day to come—or if for any other reason you’d like to come, you do so this morning. As you know, these who have responsibilities in Sunday school, I will dismiss them to those responsibilities, and we’ll just stay here for however long, and pray, or talk, or give our lives to God. If there is a family that would like to just give your life in a new way to the Lord, you come. We’ll have a prayer together, and then you can go back unto your way. But as God might lay the appeal upon your heart, come, do it now. Make it now.
Now, I want to say a word about this invitation. I have noticed in these days past, a great many of our youngsters, when I begin this invitation, you’ll start traipsing out, and especially in that balcony. Don’t do that! This is the most important of all of the moments in our church. I will dismiss you to your Sunday school responsibilities, but when you start breaking up the service by going down these stairways and going out, oh no! You stay where you are and do one of two things: one, come down here to me and respond to the appeal of the Spirit, or second, stand there and pray that God’s Holy Spirit will bless and reward and guide those who ought to give their hearts to Jesus. But don’t move unless you move here to the front. And we’ll stay here for this invitation, and then I’ll give you time to go to your Sunday school responsibilities; moving, if you move, towards God.
Now, in a moment, we will stand to sing. Taking Jesus as your Savior, or putting your life in the fellowship of the church, while we sing this song, you come. Do it now, on the first note of the first stanza, while we stand and while we sing.
A CHILD IN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Importance of the little child
A. Jesus taught
B. Child’s ability to learn
C. The intellect even of the infant
Their Christian response
A. Will respond early in life to the gospel
B. When to be baptized?
C. Pedobaptist communion – 13 years old
D. We – New Testament addressed to the mature
Our acceptance of the responsibility of
the child’s training
A. Accept as unto God
B. Judah, Genesis 44:18-34, 45:1