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And first, is the practical objection arising from the almost universal failure to realize this idea. But what Christian doctrine or precept would not be disproved or rendered nugatory by such a test? Take that grand and all inclusive precept of the Saviour, "Be ye perfect even as your Father who is in heaven is perfect." What is further from a practical realization in the world, or by the church, than this precept? And yet who will deny the truth and reality of the obligation here announced? Nay, more; who would willingly spare from the code of Christian precepts, this sublime idea and aim of all duty, with the inspiration which such a precept carries with it, involving as it does the grandest of all aims, perfection; the highest of all motives, likeness to God; and the most blessed of all encouragements, the implied truth that the grace of God is sufficient for its real and utmost attainment, else it would not have been commanded. Who can estimate the power of such an ideal held up thus over the aspirations and endeavors and struggles of the Christian, even though it should never be realized in this life? So this idea of Christian Education were a most potent and blessed truth, though it were only an ideal, never to be actually realized. But it is not merely this. Children have been so trained as not only never to remember the time when they began to be religious, but so as to evince that religion or piety was in them from the beginning, and have "opened on the world as children spiritually renewed." To deny this is to deny some of the best authenticated facts in Christian biography, and even the testimony of Scripture in regard to some at least who have been called and sanctified from the womb. If it be said that these are sporadic or exceptional cases that have come to pass by divine sovereignty, and not by any law of parental or religious nurture, this is pure assumption, which a closer study of facts would doubtless disprove.
Infant regeneration, we have every reason to suppose, is as closely connected with means of grace appropriate to that age and condition as the conversion of adults; and when these "means" are better understood and more faithfully applied, as they will be in the millenium, if not before, the exceptions will
be on the side of non-conversion, or growing up in sin; showing the law of Christian nurture to be that the child of parents really Christian shall grow up a Christian, inheriting spiritually the faith and piety of his parents.
But there are other theoretical objections to this idea, or objections lying in the minds of many Christians, which hinder its reception, and of course lie in the way of its realization. Chief among these is the almost universal expectation that children, all children, are to grow up in sin, and are not to be converted till after a certain age. Nothing could more certainly ensure such a result than such an expectation, whether we consider its effect on the parent or child. And the wonder is, considering how widely and potently such a notion has prevailed, that a child ever was converted, or found its way to the Saviour through such a bristling guard of prejudices to fence it away. Nothing but the voice and call of Jesus heard above the rebukes and opposition of his disciples, and penetrating the child's heart between the arms that should have brought, but really held it away from him-"Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not," could have overcome such an unnatural and formidable barrier. We well remember hearing from maternal lips what a literal taking up of the cross it was, before the age of Sunday schools, for a child of Christian parents who wanted to be a Christian, to avow such a precocious desire; what an audacity of boldness and even heroism of faith was required for such an one to present herself to the deacon or the minister for admission to the church; and the "examinations" in doctrine and experience that followed, as if it were a court of inquisition, or a foreign port into which some alien vessel had entered, and must undergo the most rigid scrutiny and quarantine before it could be admitted. And how many a timid child, of a shrinking and sensitive spirit, has repressed such a desire, and violated its religious instincts and convictions for long years, through fear of encountering the hedge of thorns through which it must pass in order to get within the fold, and which not Christ but the church has erected, to keep out not the wolves
only, but the very lambs of the flock! True, there is not the same degree of difficulty now, when Sunday schools have opened their doors to enclose and instruct these little ones, and be as it were a vestibule to the larger fold. The expectation of the church is not so wholly exclusive of children as formerly, but yet it is only enlarged by one step lower down, and does not coincide with the mind of Christ or the real provisions of his grace, so as to include infants and little children.
It is a most significant sign when the religious desires of children forerun the expectations and aims of their parents, which ought rather to awaken and elicit these desires. It shows how much before the faith of the church is the readiness of God to bless and convert her children, and how much larger and more abundant is the gift of grace than most Christians are able to conceive.
An expectation so dishonoring to the grace and promises of God, so cruel to the child, and so incongruous with the professed desire and aim of Christian education, must have some ground or theory to rest upon. Let us look at its supposed grounds, and see whether they be valid enough to warrant it. One basis of such an expectation, and another theoretical objection to the idea of Christian nurture held up by our author, is certain unwarranted notions respecting depravity; not the doctrine of depravity as the Scriptures and an enlightened theology represent it, but certain notions that are rather accretions upon the doctrine. Children inherit a depraved nature, a nature inclining them to sin from the very beginning of moral agency. True; but this depravity is not of so hardened and desperate a type as to exclude the possibility of divine grace dwelling with it, and overcoming its evil inclinations. It is not so "total" that it must needs reign alone, and the child be abandoned to its power, until it is old and wicked enough to be converted. This were to make those of whom the Saviour said "Of such is the kingdom of heaven" worse, and worse off than those who have grown old in sin; for these, at least, have the privilege of repenting and being converted. It is not necessary, certainly, that children should grow up in sin in order to make good the doctrine of de
pravity, any more than they should always continue in sin, to prove the same doctrine. And if grace and true piety may consist with a degree of natural corruption in older persons, why not in children, and that, too, from their earliest years? In the words of our author:
'Why should it be thought incredible that there should be some really good principle awakened in the mind of a child? For this is all that is implied in a Christian state. The Christian is one who has simply begun to love what is good for its own sake, and why should it be thought impossible for a child to have this love begotten in him? Take any scheme of depravity you please, there is yet nothing in it to forbid the possibility that a child should be led, in his first moral act, to cleave unto what is good and right, any more than in the first of his twentieth year. He is, in that case, only a child converted to good, leading a mixed life as all Christians do. The good in him goes into combat with the evil, and holds a qualified sovereignty. And why may not this internal conflict of goodness cover the whole life from its dawn, as well as any part of it? And what more appropriate to the doctrine of spiritual influence itself, than to believe that as the spirit of Jehovah fills all the worlds of matter, and holds a presence of power and government in all objects, so all human souls, the infantile as well as the adult, have a nurture of the Spirit appropriate to their age and their wants? What opinion is more essentially monstrous, in fact, than that which regards the Holy Spirit as having no agency in the immature souls of children who are growing up, helpless and unconscious, into the perils of time?" pp. 16, 17.
One more objection or obstacle to the idea of Christian nurture, here propounded, which is perhaps more influential than any other, is the prevalent theory or notion respecting conversion, as if it necessarily implied a certain mental process, or technical "experience," such as is common to adult persons. The remarks of our author upon this point are so wise and truthful, and aim so effectually to correct an error which is all but universal, that we cite them at some length:
"He (the child) cannot understand, of course, in the earliest stage of childhood, the philosophy of religion as a renovated experience, and that is not the form of the first lessons he is to receive. He is not to be told that he must have a new heart, and exercise faith in Christ's atonement. We are to understand that a right spirit may be virtually exercised in children, when, as yet, it is not intellectually received as a form of doctrine. Thus, if they are put upon an effort to be good, connecting the fact that God desires it, and will help them in the endeavor, that is all which, in a very early age, they can receive; and that includes everything,-repentance, love, duty, dependence, faith. Nay, the operative truth necessary to a new life, may possibly be communicated through and from the parent, being revealed in his looks, manners, and ways of life, before they are of an
age to understand the teaching of words; for the Christian scheme, the gospel, is really wrapped up in the life of every Christian parent, and beams out from him, as a living epistle, before it escapes from the lips, or is taught in words. And the Spirit of Truth may as well make this living truth effectual, as the preaching of the gospel itself." pp. 21, 22.
"Many true Christians fall off, unwittingly, from the humanly parental modes of nurture, in taking up notions of conversion that are mechanical, and proper only to the adult age. They make a merit of great persistency and firmness in asserting the universal necessity of a new spiritual birth; not perceiving under what varieties of form that change may be wrought. The soul must be exercised, they think, in one given way, viz: by a struggle with sin, a conscious self-renunciation, and a true turning to Christ for mercy, followed by the joy and peace of a new life in the Spirit. A child, in other words, can be born of God, only in the same way as an adult can be. There is no quickening grace, or new creation of the Spirit, proper to him as a child. If he dies in infancy, God may, it is true, find some way, possibly, to save him, but if he stays among the living, he cannot be a Christian till he is older. He is therefore left, in this most tender, and beautiful, and pliant age, in a condition most of all unprivileged, and most sadly unhopeful. The necessity of a great spiritual change is upon him, and yet he is wholly incapable of the change! What other being has the good Lord and Father of the world left in a condition as pitiful as this of a human child? Even the most wicked and hardened of men have, at least, the gate of conversion left open. And yet there are many Christian parents, living an outwardly decent and fair life, who consent, without difficulty, and with a kind of consciously orthodox merit, to this very unnatural and truly hard lot of childhood, and fall into easy conformity with it. Their practically accepted notion of Christian nurture, in which they mean to be piously faithful, is, that they are to bring up their chil dren outside of all possible acceptance with God, till such time as their conversion may be looked for, in a church-wise form. And their whole scheme of treatment corresponds. They indoctrinate them soundly, in respect to their need of a new heart; tell them what conversion is, and how it comes to pass with grown people; pray that God will arrest them, when they are old enough to be converted, according to the manner; drill them, meantime, into all the constraints, separated from all the hopes and liberties of religion; turning all their little misdoings and bad tempers into evidences of their need of regeneration, and assuring them that all such signs must be upon them till after they have passed the change. Their nurture is a nurture thus of despair, and the bread of life itself, held before them as a fruit to be looked upon, but not tasted, till they are old enough to have it as grown people do, finally becomes repulsive, just because they have been so long repelled and fenced away from it. And so religion itself, pressed down upon them till they are fatally sored by its impossible claims, becomes their fixed aversion. How plain is it that such kind of nurture is unnatural, and though it be not so intended, unchristian! It makes even the loving gospel of Jesus a most galling chain upon the neck of childhood! this and nothing more. For so long a time, and that the most ductile and hopeful, as regards all new implantings