“Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.” – Matthew 18:14
In these words the Lord declares the Divine purpose with respect to little children. It is one among several passages in the Gospels which give expression to the same truth. To His disciples and to others with whom He conversed it seems to have been a new and strange doctrine that little helpless children were worthy of interest and attention from grown-up men, and especially from one who was a wise teacher of men. They sternly rebuked the women who brought little children to the Lord for His blessing. That a feeling of contempt was in their hearts is evident from the Lord’s rebuke: “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones.” His own feeling and conduct were the reverse of theirs. He took the children in His arms, put His hands upon them, and blessed them, and said, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” And when the disciples asked Him, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He “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 little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Also He taught that little ones were the peculiar care of the highest angels, saying: “in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.” Finally, He tells how dearly they are loved by the Infinite God Himself, whose will it is that not one of them should perish.
From these and similar passages of Scripture important lessons are taught. One – perhaps the most obvious – is that all who die in infancy and childhood find an eternal home in heaven. When the Lord says respecting little children that of such is the kingdom of heaven, or when He singles out a little child as the type of those who are greatest in that kingdom, no room is left for doubt, for as surely as the Word of the Lord is truth so surely do the little ones taken from this world attain to eternal life. They come at first under the care of their guardian angels safe from all that can hurt or destroy them, and then they grow up to the full maturity of their human powers. There, in that world, there is nothing to prevent the accomplishment of their Heavenly Father’s will for them, and so they cannot and do not perish.
“Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.” Another clear implication of this text is that the Lord did not refer to those alone who would die young. He was speaking of all who ever had been or would be born. But it is possible for any one of us when he comes to maturity to defeat this purpose of the Lord for him.
The Lord is Love itself and He compels no one to follow Him. One of His most precious gifts to us is freedom. It is given us to use as from ourselves, shunning evil and doing good to the best of our knowledge and ability. Everyone is created with the power to do this and to become an angel of heaven. But the power to do it implies the power not to do it and, as we know by observation and experience, that possibility has far too often become a reality.
Yet there is no need that it should be so. The Lord does not desire it. By every possible means consistent with man’s freedom He tries to prevent it. “Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways, for why will ye die?” is His constant appeal. Whenever a child is born into the world it is his Heavenly Father’s purpose that he should be saved, and He surrounds him with the things needful for his salvation. If any of the little ones ultimately perish, it is because when they grew to maturity, the Lord’s will was disregarded by them.
A third implication of the text and of other verses of similar import is that little children embody and represent some spiritual quality which is of peculiar value in the Lord’s sight. This is clearly expressed in the Lord’s words, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” No adult person can ever become a little child again. He who makes true progress in human life advances constantly toward a more and more fully developed manhood. He fulfills the purpose of his creation in proportion to the maturity of his powers. But there is something pertaining to the state childhood which he should always possess. The exhortation is not that he should become a little child but that he should become as a little child. The Bible story begins with the creation and the garden of Eden and ends with a similar picture in Revelation. The fullness of years and experience must be crowned by the distinguishing characteristics of infancy.
Unsuspecting trustful innocence is the peculiar charm of early childhood. Little children confide in those who are older and stronger than they. They are not disturbed by thoughts of harm that may come to them. No anxiety for the morrow vexes their souls. And more than this – a positive sphere of innocence emanates from them, calling forth in others a desire to protect.
The essential spirit of innocence is perfect trust – the willingness on man’s part to be guided by a higher wisdom than his own. When it is the ruling desire of adult men and women to be led by the Lord and not by their own selfhood, spiritually they become as little children. Their apparent weakness becomes their strength, their influence on others is increased, and their innocence becomes the glory of their adulthood.
Innocence is a real and most potent thing. This is particularly the case with that innocence which is the product of mature wisdom. The innocence of infancy is not in the strictest sense genuine innocence, but only a beautiful image and representative of it. Yet it has power through the presence of the angelic influences which surround little children. In the present state of the world, children are the principal means by which men know what innocence is or even that such a thing exists.
Children stand for the pure and innocent affections in the heart. If these affections are wholly lost out of a man’s life, it is all over with him. So it is written, “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.” To preserve these states of childhood innocence and trust is the Lord’s constant effort. “Remains” is the name by which they are called in the writings of the church. Implanted in infancy and childhood, they afford a foothold to the Lord and His angels ever afterward. We should strive to cherish and preserve these remains of innocence in our children and in ourselves. We should make children familiar with the Lord and with their relationship to Him, with His Word and the lessons which it teaches. And we should cause them to receive the sign of baptism and to come into the order of the Word, so that the Divine forces operating through it may be available to them before they enter into the inevitable conflict with evil.
An important thing to remember with regard to our children is that until they come to the years of discretion, their rational faculties are not adequately developed, and they are not qualified to exercise their own judgment in many matters which most nearly concern their own welfare. To leave with the infant, child, or youth the decision of questions concerning which he has neither knowledge nor experience is the height of cruelty. Obedience is the chief lesson to be learned in childhood. It is the best foundation for trustful dependence upon the Lord in after years.
The text has a lesson for every one of us. Do we love children for what they represent? There are no children in hell. The heavens are full of them. In the pursuit of intellectual studies, of our occupations, and of worldly pleasures do we lose our sympathy for childhood’s states and experiences?
The Lord is our Example. “Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit.” And He invites us to come unto Him, saying: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”