When Can A Child Be Saved?
July 24th, 1983 @ 8:15 AM
WHEN CAN A CHILD BE SAVED
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Samuel 3:1-10
7-24-83 8:15 a.m.
And may the Lord wonderfully bless the uncounted throngs of you who are sharing this hour with us on radio. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled When Can a Child Be Saved. It is a message from the experience of all of us. It is a message we pray will be blessed to the hearts of our children, and it is a message that God has pleased to reveal to us in Holy Scripture. So let us turn to 1 Samuel in the Old Testament; 1 Samuel, chapter 3, and we begin reading at the first verse. First Samuel chapter 3, 1 Samuel chapter 3:
And the child ministered unto the Lord before Eli the high priest. And the word of the Lord was precious in those days, rare; there was no open vision,
– such as given to Abraham, to Moses, to Joshua, to Manoah –
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 Samuel was laid down to sleep;
That the Lord called Samuel: and he answered, Here am I.
And he ran unto old Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou calledst me. And 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 old Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call 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.
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. Then Eli perceived that the Lord had called the child.
Therefore Eli said unto Samuel, Go, lie down again: and it shall be, if He call thee, that thou shalt 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 at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel answered, Speak; for Thy servant heareth.
That is one of the most remarkable things you’ll ever read in God’s Word. God called him, a child. So the title of the message, When Can a Child Be Saved, when does a child become sensitive to the presence of the Lord?
Now, there is a time when the child is too young to know the Lord. It says plainly so here in our text: "Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, neither was the word of the Lord yet revealed unto him." There is a child – there is a time when the child is too young to be saved, to be converted, to experience the regenerating grace of our Lord, to understand the difference between good and evil, and to sense what it is to be lost. The child is too young.
I think of one of the funniest things. I was seated before my desk in my study, which is in the parsonage. The church built a wing to the parsonage in which my growing library is placed and where I study. Well, I was seated at my study table in the library preparing my sermon for God’s people, and our little grandson Cris – who’s now a great, big, tall boy – he was just a little bitty kid at that time, just a little bitty thing. Well, he came dashing into my study, and just jumping up and down, and said, "Oh granddaddy, there’s a wabbit in the yard, there’s a wabbit in the yard!" Well, I thought that was beyond imagination; a rabbit would have to come through heavy traffic for fifteen miles at least to get into our yard. And he’s just so excited: "There’s a rabbit in the yard!" Well, I went out in the backyard to see the "wabbit," and there where somebody had bopped him was the biggest rat I ever saw in my life, there in the middle of the grass. And that little boy jumping around: "There’s a wabbit, there’s a wabbit, look it, a wabbit!" Well, I got me a hoe, and soon the "wabbit" met the Lord in the kingdom come. But I think of that little boy. He’s too young. He doesn’t know the difference between what’s good and what’s bad. He isn’t able to discern. He’s too young.
There was a time when Samuel "did not yet know the Lord, neither was the word of the Lord yet revealed unto him." The child is too young to know the lostness of sin and to have an experience of conversion.
Number two: but there comes a time in the life of the child when the Lord quickens the soul, and the child becomes sensitive to what is good and evil and becomes aware of what it means to be lost; to have a sense of having done wrong. It says here that little Samuel became sensitive to the evil of the sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas. He became aware of sin, of wrong, of guilt, and that inevitably comes in the heart of a child, and all of us have experienced it: "I’m a sinner. I have statedly and volitionally and choosingly done wrong."
You know I’ve thought of this experience in my own heart for now over sixty-three years. In the little town and in the little house in which I lived, as a little boy I awoke one night crying, weeping. I had dreamed a vivid dream. And I looked back to this day, thinking through that dream. What did God look like? I’ve tried to remember. Indistinct, just He was there. And what did the bar beyond which He sat look like? I can’t describe, just a bar of judgment, like in a court. And what about the multitudes that were there? They were just throngs. And I dreamed that I was standing before the judgment bar of Almighty God, and that I was lost. And that feeling of lostness and the despair that accompanied it overwhelmed my soul, and I burst into tears and awakened myself crying. I was lost. The great judgment day of God had come, and I was lost. And I went to the sleeping bed of my father and mother, and they awakened with my weeping; the sense of being lost. "I am a guilty sinner. I have statedly chosen to do wrong. And in the sight and in the presence of the holy God, I am condemned, I am impure, I am a sinner, I am lost." That sensitivity comes to the heart of a child.
Number three: and the Lord speaks to the child, the Lord calls the child. And the Lord calls Samuel one time. And the Lord called again, "Samuel." And the Lord called the third time, "Samuel." "And the Lord came and stood and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel." God calls the child. God speaks to the child. The initiation of our conversion, of our becoming a Christian, lies in Him. It lies in the grace of our Lord.
This is what Spurgeon said,
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 at the bottom of 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 constant confession: I ascribe my salvation wholly to God.
It is God who initiates that call. It is God who quickens the soul. It is God who speaks to Samuel and who speaks to the child. God does it; the initiation is in Him.
I saw a poignant illustration of that one time, preaching through a conference in upper New York state. They had a habit there that was strange and unusual to me. When I was through preaching, I was to dismiss the congregation. And anyone who wanted to take the Lord as Savior or wanted to talk about being a Christian was to come down to me as the people left. That was the way the invitation was given in that conference. So I went along with it, however – well, one night after I was done preaching, [I] had the people stand, led a benediction, and the people went out. All of them were going out, walking out, and I thought, "Dear me, the grace of God had reached down to no one tonight." Then as the last ones were leaving, and the conference auditorium was empty, and I was standing there at the front by myself, just suddenly, as though it was a light from heaven, just suddenly there was a boy who was walking out the door, and as he was walking out the door, it seemed to me, just walking out the door as the rest were, leaving, suddenly that boy burst into tears. Weeping, turned around and came down to me, and said that the Lord had spoken to his heart, and that he wanted to be saved. It is of God. It is an initiation from heaven. It is God whose grace touches us and invites us and calls us.
A child is different from a rock or a post. You can speak to a rock or a post forever and there’s no response. The child’s heart is made for God; and when you address your appeal to the child, there will come a time when the child will respond. God made him that way. God has made us that way!
I had heard this sentence all of my life, and when I read Augustine’s Confessions just recently, it’s in the first paragraph: "God hath made us for Himself, and we are restless until we rest in God." He created us for Himself. He made us sensitive in our hearts. And God speaks to us. He speaks to us through His Word: "The word of the Lord was not yet revealed unto Samuel" [1 Samuel 3:7]. And the great story closes, "All Israel knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet in Israel because the word of the Lord was revealed unto him" [1 Samuel 3:20]. God speaks to us through His Word, and the teacher when he teaches the Word, and the pastor when he preaches the Word, and in our testimony when we speak of the Word of God, God uses it to quicken the soul.
Now I have another wonderment in this marvelous story. Could such a thing be that God turns His kingdom upon the response and the life of a child? "It came to pass, 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 the word of the Lord was precious, it was rare in those days; there was no open vision" [1 Samuel 3:1-3]. The land was in a drought, in a dearth of the power and presence of the Lord, and the lamp of God was going out in the tabernacle of the Lord. It was then when old Eli had come to the end of his days, and his eyes waxed dim that he could not see; it was then that God did a wonderful thing raising up the second greatest man in the life of the Hebrew nation, next to Moses: Samuel.
Well, isn’t that an unusual thing, that God does it through a child? Not at all; that’s just how God does things. Don’t you read in Isaiah chapter 11, verse 6, "And a little child shall lead them"? Isn’t that what God says? Always, when the testimony and the work of the Lord is beginning to falter and fail, God does something: He raises up somebody. And the Word of the Lord may falter here, and it may be dim there, and there may be drought and dearth yonder, but somewhere God is raising up somebody to champion the cause of the faith. I could not help but be impressed with the Talmud and its comment on this verse. "And ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was, and Samuel was laid down to sleep; That the Lord called Samuel." Now here’s the Talmudic comment:
On the day that Rabbi Akiva died, Rabbi the compiler of the Mishnah was born. On the day when the Rabbi compiler of the Mishnah died, Rabbi Yehudah 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) – It teaches thee that no righteous man departs this life before another equally righteous man is born. As it is said – (and then quoting Ecclesiastes) – "The sun rises and the sun goeth down." The sun of Eli had not set before that of Samuel rose. As it is said, "Ere the lamp of God was out, and Samuel laid down."
Isn’t that an encouraging thing? The Word of God never ultimately fails. It never fails. It never will! It may die here, it may wane there, it may ebb yonder, but somewhere always there is a great outpouring of the Spirit of grace, and a champion of the faith arises. That’s what the Talmud says, and it is true today as when it was written two thousand five hundred years ago.
I must close. The public avowal of that calling: it says here, "And Samuel told Eli everything, and hid nothing from him. And all Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord. And the Lord appeared again: for the Lord revealed Himself to Samuel by the word of the Lord" [1 Samuel 3:18-21]. There’s no such thing as the grace of God reaching down to us and we hide it in our hearts, never speak of it, never testify or witness to it; it’s impossible. When the grace of God reaches down to our souls, the child will tell mother and father, or the child will speak to the teacher, or the child will speak to the family, or the child will speak to the pastor, or the child will speak to the church. That’s also of heaven, that’s also of God.
One of the first things that comes into our hearts when we accept the Lord Jesus is, "I want to tell the whole world what a wonderful thing God has done for me. He has touched my heart, saved my soul, spoken to me, called me." And the avowal and the confession of it before the church, before our friends, in the presence of our families, all of that is of God; it’s of heaven. That’s why I have always been persuaded – so unlike the churches in England, and most of them in America, have a service and no invitation, no appeal – God is in that appeal, He is in that invitation. This is the way of the Lord: Samuel telling old Eli what God had done to him, and Eli and Samuel publishing it from Dan to Beersheba. That’s God. "I want to take my stand; I want publicly to avow my commitment to Christ." And God blesses that open, public, unashamed avowal of our faith in the Lord. And that’s our appeal to you this morning.
A family, a couple, a child, a youth, one somebody you, a family you, coming today, to us and to the Lord, standing before men and angels, giving your life in faith and love to the blessed Jesus. May we stand?
Our precious Lord, no sweeter open door is ever placed before us than when we come to Thee, calling Thy name, answering Thy invitation, confessing our faith, giving our lives in loving trust to Thee. And bless and sanctify, Lord, these who come this morning, in Thy saving and wonderful name, amen. While we sing our song of invitation and appeal, in the balcony round, a family, a couple, a one somebody you; in this lower floor, into one of these aisles and down here to the front: "Pastor, God has called me, spoken to me, and I’m answering with my life." Make it now, while we wait, while we pray, and while we sing, while we sing. While we make this appeal, while we sing our song,