When Can A Child Be Saved?
July 24th, 1983 @ 10:50 AM
1 Samuel 3:1-10
WHEN CAN A CHILD BE SAVED?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Samuel 3:1-10
7-24-83 10:50 a.m.
It is a joy for us here in the First Baptist Church of Dallas to welcome the great multitudes of you who are sharing this hour with us on radio and on television. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church, bringing the message entitled When Can a Child Be Saved?
The sermons today, both of them, are in keeping with the climactic conclusion of our Vacation Bible School. This last week we have had one of the finest in the history of our church. It is the largest in the world and seemingly the most preciously blessed. The sermon tonight, when we especially invite the parents of our children, the sermon tonight is entitled, Dad, Look Behind You. Turn around, look. Look who is following you. Look who is listening to you. Look behind you.
And the sermon this morning, When Can a Child Be Saved? It is a sermon out of the experience of all of us. There is no part of this that I haven’t lived through. There’s no syllable in it that you haven’t experienced.
It is taken out of the life of Samuel; 1 Samuel, chapter 3; 1 Samuel, chapter 3 [1 Samuel 3], and the story is this, 1 Samuel, chapter 3: “And the child Samuel ministered unto the Lord before old Eli, who was the high priest. And the word of the Lord was precious in those days”—it was rare—“there was no open vision” [1 Samuel 3:1].
The Lord had thus appeared openly, in physical form, to Abraham, and the travelers, the guests that came by [Genesis 18:1-2]; before Moses [Deuteronomy 34:10], who talked with God face to face; before Joshua, as a Warrior [Joshua 5:13-15]; before Manoah, in the form of a rising ascending Angel [Judges 13:20]. But those days were gone. There was no open vision.
And it came to pass at that time, when Eli was laid down in his place, and his eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see;
And ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was, and where Samuel was laid down to sleep;
That the Lord called Samuel: and he answered, Here am I.
And he ran unto Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou calledst me. And old Eli said, I called not; lie down again. And Samuel went and lay down.
And the Lord called yet again, Samuel. And Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, Here I am; for thou calledst me. And Eli answered, I called not, my son; lie down again.
Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, neither was the word of the Lord yet revealed unto him—that little boy.
And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And old Eli the priest perceived that God, the Lord had called the boy.
Therefore Eli said unto Samuel, You go lie down; and it shall be, if He call thee, that thou shall say, Speak, Lord; for Thy servant heareth.
So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
And the Lord came, and stood, and called as in other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel answered, Speak; for Thy servant heareth.
[1 Samuel 3:2-10]
When can a child be saved? One: there is a time when the child is too young to know the Lord or the Word of the Lord. It says so. “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, neither was the word of the Lord yet revealed unto him” [1 Samuel 3:7]. He was too young. He had not reached that age of sensitivity, and accountability, and understanding between good and evil. There is a time when the child is too young to be saved, to have an experience of regeneration, of conversion to know the Lord in the forgiveness of sins. He is too young. He doesn’t see the difference between good and evil.
I often think of something funny that happened a long time ago, when our grandson Cris was just a little bitty fellow, a little bitty fellow. As you know, the church built a wing to the parsonage, and that’s where I study. That’s where I prepare my sermons. Every morning, I study. And now, in these last years, late at night I study.
Well, I was in there studying, in those days when Cris—he’s so tall and grown now and I can hardly realize he was ever so little—Cris came running into my study, and said, “Oh, granddaddy, a wabbit, a wabbit, a wabbit. There’s a wabbit in the backyard. There’s a wabbit.”
Well, I thought, “Now, this beats anything I ever heard. That rabbit had to go through fifteen miles of heavy traffic to get in our yard.
Yet, he says, “Granddad, there’s a wabbit in the yard.”
Well, I went out there in the backyard with the little boy. And there, in the grass where somebody had bopped him, was the biggest rat I ever saw in my life. It was that long and the little boy pointed and said, “Look at the wabbit. Look at the wabbit.” Well, I got me a garden hose and it wasn’t long until the wabbit went out to meet the Lord.
But that is so typical of a child. They’re not old enough to know. They don’t understand between right and wrong; good and evil.
I might pause here to say a word about the salvation of a little child, a baby when the child dies. Ten thousand times have I been asked about the child that dies, young, not old enough to be sensitive to right and wrong; does the child go to heaven? Is the child saved? The answer from Scripture is very plain and emphatic. For example, in 1 Corinthians 15:22: “As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.” The sin of Adam [Genesis 3:1-6], that brought death and woe to our race [Romans 5:12], has been covered over, washed away by the blood of our Lord [Ephesians 1:7]. I do not die because of the sins of my father and mother, or their fathers and mothers, or their forefathers. It is only when I reach the age of accountability that I face God in the judgment of my sins. I am not judged for their sins. I am judged for my sins. And that is why, when I reach that age of accountability, I must come to God in confession of my sins and ask God to forgive me for Christ’s sake. But, the child is covered by the blood of the cross.
That’s why, in our church, you often see a little child come forward and, if the child is very young, we call that a step toward God. The child will feel, “I want to tell the pastor that I love Jesus.” But the child has no sensitivity to lostness, to the condemnation of sin. So we encourage the parent, when the child says, “I want to go tell the pastor that I love Jesus,” don’t ever interdict the child. Don’t ever say no. Any time, anywhere a child wants to take a step toward God, say, “That’s great! Let’s go!” Anytime, encourage the child moving toward the Lord, and we know exactly what to do.
Man, I’ve been pastor for fifty-five years now, working with children every day of it, and this beautiful step I have, we know exactly what to do. That child steps toward God, a step toward God, then we guide the youngster in the experience of regeneration: what it means in God’s time when they become sensitive to being lost; what it means to come to the Savior and to accept Him in the free pardon of our own sins. There is a time when the child is too young to be saved, to know sin and the forgiveness in the atoning sacrifice of our Lord [Ephesians 1:7].
But then comes the day when the child is quickened, becomes sensitive. We call it reaching the age of accountability. Here, in the story of 1 Samuel, beyond the verses that I read, he becomes sensitive to the iniquity, to the evil of Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli [1 Samuel 3:10-18]. He becomes aware of sin and of lostness.
Pointedly do I remember, as a little boy, when I became sensitive, quickened in my heart, to what it is to be lost. Oh, dear, I have thought of this ten thousand times ten thousand times, and tried to think through the vision, the dream that I had! Lying in my bed in my room, I dreamed that I stood before the judgment bar of Almighty God. I tried to think back, how did God look? What was He like? And the most I can say is, it was just God in the form I could not describe, nor the bar behind which He sat. But before the judgment bar of the great and mighty God, the throngs of the earth were gathered, and I was there, and I was lost, and the sense of the despair of being so lost crushed me. And I awakened, crying, weeping. And I ran to the room and the bed of my father and mother, just lamenting and crying, weeping, the sense of sin, of being lost, of standing before God in guilt, in wrong. And all of us come to that age in our lives, all of us. There’s no one of us but that escapes. There’s no one of us that escapes the sensitivity that I have statedly and choosingly and maliciously done wrong.
As a child, I can think back over things. If we could have a confession meeting here, I remember when I was five years old, with another little boy. He encouraged me to go into Fewell’s Variety Store to steal something. So we went into the variety store. And I have forgotten what he stole, but of all the crazy things in this world, I stole a pipe to smoke. Well, when I got home, what does a little boy do with a pipe that he’s just stolen? So I put it under the washtub at the back door. That was the one certain place where my mother would find it. Isn’t that right? That’s where I hid it. So in the course of the day, my mother went out and in those days, you know, they scrubbed in a washtub. Why, my mother picked up the washtub and there was a brand new pipe to smoke. Well, she had no idea, so she called me and said, “Son, where did this pipe come from?” Well, it didn’t have wings, didn’t have feet, so I just broke down and I confessed to my sweet mother, “Mother, I stole that from Fewell’s Variety Store.”
Oh, the sense of shame and wrong and guilt! And, of course, my mother made we march right back there to the store and to Mr. Fewell, who was a godly man, and put it back in his hands with an apology that I had done such an evil thing in the sight of the Lord and in his sight.
Now why in the world did I do that? And when we probe through our souls, why do we do things that are statedly and avowedly wrong? We just do. We live in a fallen world and our lives are in those fallen places. And we feel in our hearts that sensitivity to sin. I have done wrong. It is then, it is then that the grace of God reaches down to us, and the Lord speaks to us. The Lord calls us [Matthew 11:28]. And the Lord called, “Samuel” [1 Samuel 3:4]. And the Lord called again, “Samuel” [1 Samuel 3:6]. And the Lord called yet again, the third time, “Samuel” [1 Samuel 3:8]. And a fourth time, and the Lord came and stood as at other times and called, “Samuel, Samuel” [1 Samuel 3:10]. The Lord calls to us.
I copied this out of Spurgeon:
The thought struck me, “How did I come to be a Christian?” I answered, “I sought the Lord.” But, how did I come to seek the Lord? The truth flashed across my mind, in a moment, I should not have sought Him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek Him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, “How came I to pray?” I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures, but how came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them. But, what led me to do so? Then, in a moment, I saw that God was behind it all and that He was the author of my faith. And so, the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and I desired to make this my constant confession. I ascribe my salvation wholly to God.
That’s truth, and it’s the truth of our every experience. It is God who initiates this, this response of grace. God does it. God speaks to the child. God does it.
When the child comes of age, and becomes sensitive to right and wrong, God speaks to the child. I saw a poignant illustration of that one time. Preaching through a conference in upper New York State, they said to me, “The way we make the invitation here: when you get through preaching, why, you press the appeal for Christ, then lead a benediction. And when the people leave, you say if anyone desires to seek the Lord, well, to come and to speak to you.”
Well, that’s all right with me, however. So, I would preach, and when I got through preaching, I would give the invitation and then have the people to stand. And after the prayer, why, they would all leave and, if anyone wanted to stay to speak to me, why, he was encouraged to do so.
Well, this night when I got through preaching and made the invitation and led the benediction, why, the people filed out. And they all left. I was there at the front of the tabernacle, oh, just standing there. No one came. And as the last group walked out one of those doors at the back, one of them was a boy. And suddenly, as he was walking out the door, suddenly, the lad just bowed his head and burst into tears and turned around and came down to me and said, “I want to be saved. I want to give my heart to the Lord.”
That is the grace of God. Our salvation begins in Him. He speaks to us, and we hear His voice in our hearts. God made us that way. I could preach to a stump or a stone or a post forever and there would be no quickening. There would be no reply. But there’s no child in this earth but that, when you tell the child about the Lord, there will be an inward response in the soul of the youngster. God made him that way. He made us that way. And I am just speaking of the experience that all of us have lived through. God spoke to my heart. God called me. God knows me. And the Lord, in His grace and mercy, quickened me. That’s where it begins.
Now is it possible that God does His work that way: through children? He says so in the great prophecy of Isaiah, chapter 11 [Isaiah 11]. Do you remember, after it describes all of the wonderful things that God is going to do for us [Isaiah 11:1-6], do you remember the concluding clause in the sixth verse: “And a little child shall lead them?” [Isaiah 11:6]. Do you remember that? “And a little child shall lead them” [Isaiah 11:6], not a great prophet or the mighty lawgiver, but “a little child shall lead them.” And doesn’t God do it that way? Didn’t our Lord come down into this world as a little child, didn’t He? [Matthew 1:20-25]. And wasn’t Moses, miraculously saved as a little child [Exodus 2:1-10]—doesn’t God do it that way?
So it is here in the life of Samuel. They came upon hard and difficult days here in the story of 1 Samuel. It says here “The word of the Lord was precious,” rare, “in those days; there was no open vision” [1 Samuel 3:1]. There was a dearth and a drought in the land. And it came to pass, when the lamp of the Lord in the tabernacle of God was almost out, and when the aged high priest Eli lay down in his place, his eyes dim that he could not see, it was then that the Lord called, “Samuel, Samuel” [1 Samuel 3:2-4].
I read the Talmudic comment on that verse, written about 2,500 years ago. “On the day,” it said, this Talmudic comment on this, “and ere the lamp of God went out in the house of the Lord, on the day that Rabbi Akiva died, Rabbi Compiler of the Mishnah was born. On the day when the Rabbi Compiler of the Mishnah died, Rabbi Yehuda was born. On the day when Rabbi Yehuda died, Rabbi Rava was born. On the day when Rabbi Rava died, Rabbi Ashi, one of the editors of the Gemara, was born. It teaches thee,” says this Talmudic comment, “that no religious man departs this life before another equally righteous man is born. As it is said, and then he quotes in Ecclesiastes, ‘The sun rises, and the sun goeth down’” [Ecclesiastes 1:5].
The sun of Eli had not set before that of Samuel rose, as it is said in 1 Samuel 3:3: “Ere the lamp of God was out … and Samuel was laid down.” God’s work has not, is not, shall never ultimately die. Never, never. There may be dearth and drought over here, but there will be revival over there. There may be a waning and an ebbing yonder, but God will raise up a glorious exponent and prophetic preacher of His divine Word and power over here. That’s the way God does. There is revival and the Word of God in grace and power somewhere forever in the earth.
O Lord, I just pray that it be here. Lord, do it here with us. Send Thy great and mighty arm of salvation and revival here. Do it here, Lord. Do it here. That’s what happened there. No open vision: the word of God rare [1 Samuel 3:1]. The whole message of the prophet dying out in Eli, old and blind. And He calls young Samuel, “Samuel” [1 Samuel 3:4]. And Samuel stood up next to Moses, the greatest of the Hebrews. That’s God, and the grace of our Lord.
I have one other: the public avowal of that grace and call. It says here at the end of the chapter that Samuel told old Eli everything, and kept back from him nothing [1 Samuel 3:18]. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord [1 Samuel 3:20]. And the Lord spoke to Samuel, and the Lord revealed Himself to Samuel by the word of the Lord [1 Samuel 3: 21]. That’s true in every one of our experiences. The first thing that happens in the heart when we hear the call of God and have answered with our lives is this: I tell it. I say it. I can’t hide it. It just appears. It shines. The child will tell Daddy and Mother, or the child will tell the teacher. Or, the child will tell the pastor and, finally, the whole world. You can’t hide it. It is a public exhibition in our very faces: what the grace of God has done to us.
I don’t think there’s a greater sermon ever preached in our part of the world than B. H. Carroll’s “My Infidelity and What Became of it.” He was a blatant infidel, wounded in the Civil War, the War Between the States, came here back home, and openly scoffed at God.
Well, the whole sermon is how in a great revival he found the Lord, and when he came home he had a resolution in his heart. He wasn’t going to say anything about it, wasn’t going to mention it, but he changed from an infidel to a believer in Jesus. And when he walked through the kitchen where his mother was preparing the meal, she’s busy about the kitchen, he had a little nephew there, who saw him walk through the kitchen. And B. H. Carroll, the infidel who had been converted that day, went upstairs and lay down on the bed and covered his face with his hands. But the little boy said to B.H. Carroll’s, Dutch Carrol’s mother, said, “You know, Uncle B. H. is doing such a strange thing. He’s crying and he’s singing at the same time.”
Well, the mother laid down what she was doing in the kitchen and ran upstairs and saw that great big son, her boy, lying on the bed, with his hands over his face. And she went over to the bed and took away one of his hands and took away the other of his hands and looked into his face and said, “Son, son, you’ve been saved. You’ve been saved. You’ve been saved.” He hadn’t said a word. It showed in his eyes.
You can’t hide it. When a man knows God, it’s seen in every syllable that he speaks, and every tone of his voice and every gesture of his hand and every step of his life. It’s a new day. It’s a new way. It’s a new hope. It’s a new prayer. It’s a new vision. It’s a new love. It’s a new everything: “If any man be in Christ Jesus . . . behold, look, all things are new” [2 Corinthians 5:17].
That’s the way it was with the boy Samuel. He was a lad, but he found the Lord and listened to the voice of God. And old Eli saw it, and, from Dan to Beer-sheba, the people knew it, for God revealed Himself to Samuel by the word of the Lord [1 Samuel 3:20-21].
And that’s your experience, too. When God speaks to you and you answer with your life, you will want your wife to know it, your husband to know it. You want your father and mother to know it. You want the pastor to know it. You want the deacons to know it. You want the church to know it. You want the whole world to know it. It’s the good news; the best news in this earth. Now, may we stand together?
Our wonderful, wonderful Savior, whose divine grace reaches down even to us; O Lord,
What a happy day
When Jesus washed my sins away.
He taught me how to watch and pray,
And live rejoicing every day.
O happy day, happy day
When Jesus washed my sins away.
[from “O Happy Day,” Philip Doddridge]
And our Lord, may these who have been touched by the grace of God [Ephesians 2:8] find joy unspeakable in avowing that experience of the love of Jesus, and the grace of our Lord, and the forgiveness of Christ. May they do it now.
And in this moment when we wait for you, we pray, we sing our hymn of appeal, a family you, “Pastor, today we’re coming. God has spoken to us.” A couple you, a one somebody you, in the balcony round, down one of those stairways, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles: “Pastor, we are coming. This is God’s day for us, and we are on the way.” May angels attend you, and God bless you as you come. And thank Thee, Lord, for the sweet and precious harvest, in Thy saving name, amen. Welcome, while we sing, while we sing.
WHEN CAN A CHILD BE SAVED?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Samuel 3:1-10
A time when the child is too young
1. Not know good
2. Why babies saved,
1 Corinthians 15:22
3. A step toward
The soul of the child quickened
1. Eli sensitive to
the sins of Hophni and Phineas
2. Age of
The call of God
2. The boy breaking
3. Seed, pebble