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DO you know, my friends, that these are the first recorded words of the Lord Jesus? How touching in their simplicity and how profound in their spiritual depth! And these words came from a boy only twelve years old. At that age his parents took Jesus with them to the great feast of the Passover. The age of twelve years was a critical time for a Jewish boy. It was the age, according to Jewish legend, when Moses left the house of Pharaoh^s daughter; when Samuel heard the voice which summoned him to the office of prophet ; when Solomon gave the judgment VA'hich first revealed his wisdom; when Josiah first dreamed of his great reform. At this age every boy was obliged, by the injunction of the rabbis and the custom of the nation, to learn a trade for his own support; at this age he so far gained freedom from parental authority that they could no longer sell him as a slave ; at this age he became what was called "a, son of the Lord," and was confirmed as a regular member of the congregation. Jesus as a boy in Jerusalem catches his first glimpse of the great outer world. Jerusalem is distant from Xazareth about eighty miles, and the journey from the one to the other required a little m.ore than three davs. Crowds bv the thousands, and even
212 THE AMERICAN BAPTIST PULPIT.. tens of thousands, flocked to the Passover. The city could not accommodate them. I^umbers of pilgrims dwelt in temporary booths made of mats and wicker work and interwoven leaves. The scene at the Passover was not unlike the old-fashioned Southern "campmeeting" which many of us remember. The feast lasted a week; it was a glorious revival v/eek. When the meeting "broke up/' as we
say, the vast caravan, with their mules and horses and asses and camels, would clear away their "tents" and start on the homeward journey. It was a glad time. The road was enlivened by mirth and music. There they move along, the veiled women and the stately old men mounted, while the young men with long staffs in their liands lead along the beasts of burden. The boys and girls sometimes walk and play by the side of their parents, and sometimes, when tired, get a lift on the horse or mule. The slow travel was cheered by the sound of drums and timbrels. The pauses at noon were picnics by the springing well or flowing stream. When Joseph and Mary moved away from the city with the crowd the boy Jesus, absorbed in new and elevating emotions, remained behind. A day went by before they discovered his loss. The next, in alarm and anguish, they retrace their steps. They went everywhere hunting for the missing boy, and found him at last in the temple talking to a group of old ministers on the kingdom of God. Mary his mother reproached him : "My child, why doth thou treat us thus ? See thy father and I were seeking thee with aching hearts." And then followed his answer, one of calm, respectful dignity : "Did ye not know that I must be in my Father's house ?" Memorable words those ! Do j^ou know that right then and there gleamed forth four revelations? There in the temple of Jehovah was made a revelation of God to the boy, a revelation of the boy to himself, a revelation of the boy to the ministers, and a revelation of the boy to his mother. In the first revelation God was disclosed to the boy. On his first visit to the temple of God, I say, Jesus caught his first sufficient view of God. I do not mean it was the first time Jesus worshipped Jehovah. In the home of Joseph there was a family altar, as in every pious Jewish home. In that home private prayer was the
COXSECRATED CHILDHOOD. 21.3 privilege and duty of every member of the family morning, noon, and evening. I do not mean that it was the first time Jesn5 ''went to church,'^ as we should say. Without doubt he regularly attended
the worship of the svnagogue at Xazareth. Eabbis believed children as young as five years of age should not only participate in divine service, but be able to read the law. TN'hat I mean to say is this : Here in Jerusalem, when only twelve years of age, the boy Jesus c^me to a personal realization of the character of God and of the claims which God had upon him. As it was springtime in the city, with buds bursting and flowers blooming everwhere, so there was springtime in the garden of Jesus' heart. The seeds of truth dropped into it in infancy and watered with tears of mother love, and warmed with the sunsliine of God's spirit, now come up and come out to view in freshness and beauty. Then, for the first time, so far as we are informed by the Word, the soul of the boy awoke to see and know God as he is known only to pure and loving hearts. God revealed himself to Jesus in the temple as ^'the Father." The temple became to Jesus ''My Fathers house." If you will study God's disclosures of himself to the ancient prophet* you will find it was gradual. The Old Testament shows what is called a progressive development of the doctrine of God. God is first seen as the all-powerful. God is first discovered by a child as the maker of the universe, shining in the sun, roaring in the storm, the sea and thunder, and whirling the world onward in its revolutions. God is next seen by the child as "all- justice." He is the embodiment of law. God commands us to do certam things and not to do certain other things ; he rewards obedience and punishes disobedience. Then God appears to the child as **all-holiness." He requires a clean heart: he looks witliin as weU as without; he judges disposition as well as conduct. All along there is theological progress, but this is about as near as God ever gets to an unsaved soul. When God is known merely as the all-powerful, aU-just, allholy one, the feeling excited are not those of the saved. What can they be but dread, awe, fear, or even repulsion and hatred ? There must be a fuller manifestation of the divine character. The aUloving must appear. It is only when God comes to us as love or
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sustaining to our sonls the same relationship that our earthly fathers sustain to onr bodies that he is fully revealed and we learn to love and trust him. In other words, though God had always been the boy's Father in fact, he now becomes such in the boy's feeling. The experience of the child Christ was not wholly unlike what in our sinful children is called regeneration. God becomes the personal God of a boy or girl only twelve years old when that young heart sees him and knows him as a father. To grasp God's fatherhood as that doctrine is taught in the Scriptures is to be a new-born soul. Whenever one of you, however long enslaved by sin, comes to see that God's character is love, that God's commands are given in love, that God's threats are made in love, that God's service is to be discharged in love, you have received the Holy Spirit. Forever afterwards Jehovah is a Father no more to be hated, feared, distrusted, disobeyed, fled from, but the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom you give the mind's profoundest reverence and the heart's deepest and sincerest affection and the life's loyalty. A second revelation in the temple was that of the boy Jesus to himself. In the temple Jesus found his Father, but what was equally important, he found himself. Do you not know that this discovery of one's self is a great crisis in one's history ? Eemember the prodigal — "When he came to himself he said. How many hired servants of my father's house have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger ?" When he came to himself then he resolved to come to his father. "I will arise and go to my father." You may remind me that the prodigal was a sinner, and that he found himself as only a sinner can find himself, debased, wretched, far from God, on the road to endless ruin. He found his need of forgiveness, of cleansing, of love, home, and happiness. Those needs forced him to his father. And that is true. But there is self -disco very by even those who are not so grossly wicked. There is a discovery of duty to God growing out of our relation to God as son to a father. Before we know God, whether we have been moral or immoral, we do not know ourselves. After we know God we begin to know ourselves. Before Jesus' visit to the temple he did not fully comprehend God, and for that reason he did not fully compreliend what
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God would have him do. So before conversion, before a satisfying view of God^s fatherhood bursts upon the soul, no soul can know its life work and life responsibility. Self-discovery is needed by our boys and girls. When yon look into the face of yonr bright boy and ask him, "My son, wliat are yon going to be when you are old enough to work for yourself?'', you are telling him to study himself. You say, in eSect, turn your eyes inward ; tell me what sort of a nature you have ; examine what are your inclinations, what you wish to do ; examine your abilities, what you think 3^ou will be able to do ; examine your opportunities, what you think will open to you as a life work. You are trying to get the boy or girl to find himself or herself. And that is most important parental duty. Let me tell you, however, that the boy or girl will never find himself till he has first found God. Mary and Joseph took their boy to the temple of God, and there Jesus found God. Having found God, Jesus found himself, and having found himself he found his life work. "I must be in my Father's house or I must be about my Father's business." Henceforth Jesus was to be a minister of God, preaching the gospel of salvation to a lost world. Manifestly all our boys and girls arenot to be ordained preachers. There are already too many preachers. All honorable callings are open to our children. In any one of them they can be ministers for God. The truth I wish to emphasize is that conversion is self-revelation. Conversion opens the boy's e3^es or the girl's eyes to see that they are close kin to God, that they are somebody, and good has something in God's esteem. Conversion fills the youth with uplifting, expanding, ennobling convictions. A new heart discovers a new world. Whenever one of our children can say, "Through the merits of Christ I am a child of God ; however young and weak I may be, I am made in his image ; I can know his character ; I can do his will ; I can be his instrument for accomplishing good in the world ; I can glorify him and bless my fellow-men," that child will never be a failure. Fame he may not acquire, nor wealth, nor high position, nor wide influence, but he will be a success. He is forever lifted up above any calling that is dishonorable, corrupting, vicious. Ever afterwards the youth or maiden exclaims : "I have a mission ; I have a duty." Such an one finds himself and the place he was made
216 THE AMERICAN BAPTIST PULPIT.. for in the world. Life has a plan and a purpose. He sings in shop or store, or factory or office : "I am what God made me ; I am where God placed me ; I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me." The boy in the temple was a revelation to the old ministers as he sat among them asking and answering questions. ^^And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers." Great men were grouped about the boy. Among those doctors may have been the great Hillel, white with the snows of well-nigh one hundred years, whom the Jews almost reverenced as a second Moses ; and his grandson, the refined and liberal Gamaliel, at whose feet Paul was trained; and Shammai, whose word was law to many; and Annas, Christ's future judge ; and the wealthy Joseph of Aramathea; and the timid but earnest Nicodemus. How these men were charmed and astonished at the glorious and noble-hearted boy. There he sat in the radiant beauty of innocent childhood. He was prematurely thoughtful. Though he had never learned in the schools of the rabbis, yet he showed a marvellous wisdom and a deep knowledge of things divine. God had appeared to him and spoke through him. Now, when Christ began to preach the gospel of the kingdom, you remember, he began to glorify childhood. Judaism was chiefly an old folks' religion. Christianity was to be a young folks' religion. Age and wisdom were most highly honored in the old dispensation. Truth and love were most highly exalted in the new dispensation. No feature in Christ's wonderful reformation was more novel and surprising than his elevation of the child to the topmost place in importance and value. Christianity was and is a sanctified childhood. Who is the typical saint in Christ's teaching ? Not the Roman soldier; his characteristics are courage, insensibility, endurance ; but these are not fundamental Christian virtues. Not the Greek philosopher ; his marks were learning, grace, quickness of intellect. Not the Jewish sage ; he exhibited wisdom, solemnity, caution. It is the child whom Christ makes the symbol of pure re-
ligion; it is the child's graces of faith, hope, and love. All this surprised the great people of that age. To this day God's people are skeptical as to the possibilities of religion in a child. It was eigh-
CONSECRATED CHILDHOOD. 217 teen hundred years after Christ before the Sunday school was founded. It has been within the memory of men now in this congregation that the ministry first sought the conversion of boys and girls. Our churches, led by the old doctors, who looked upon religion as the exclusive possession of maturity and old age, did not encourage preaching to boys and girls; did not look for their conversion; did not readily accept the evidences of their conversion; did not encourage them to publicly declare their conversion and unite with the church. Are we much wiser ? Let a series of special meetings begin and God's people become aroused to seek and save the lost. The minister and his thoughtful co-workers begin to look about them for objects of special prayer. Whom are they most likely to select ? ^'Well," they say, '^^there is that father over yonder who is not a Christian ; that mother over there ; those regular members of the congregation who have worshipped with us for years. ^^ We say: "Look yonder at that strong, prosperous business man; that influential professional man; that society leader among the women of the community. We must exhort them, entreat them, bring them to Christ and salvation." And so we go to work on these people. By and by the time of disclosure comes. God's spirit has been working too, but not on the fathers and mothers and great folks, but on the children. The invitation is given for those who love Christ to confess him, and up from the distant pew comes a bright-eyed boy or girl. How surprised everybody is. The minister even — shame on him — did not expect the little ones. And when he questions the boy, though only twelve years old, it may be, his wonder grows that he has been so soundly and genuinely brought to know and love God. How constantly the old leaders in the church wake up to discover that God is using the weak things of this world to confound the mighty ; that God is passing by the old and influential to gather to himself the young and unknown.
One more temple revelation. The boy was a revelation to his parents. Mary was astonished. Mary the mother of Jesus was unprepared for the spectacle. Mary, though she knew of his miraculous birth ; Mary, who had sung in rapture the praises of the infant Saviour ; Mary, who had been repeatedly informed as to the future of her boy, is astonished. More, she is displeased at Christ's preco-
218 THE AMEEICAN BAPTIST PULPIT.. cioiis piety. The discovery that Jesus is now old enough to call God his Father and the temple his Father's house and God's worship his own business has all the force of shock. "Wist ye not that I must be in my Father's house and about my Father's business?" It was a stunning question. Yes, the old man who had protected his infancy and the mother who had borne him understood him not. There was a deep spiritual meaning in those quiet words. Strange and mournful commentary on the first recorded utterance of the youthful Saviour that it should be misunderstood by those who were nearest and dearest to him. Godly people in this church are not always prepared for the conversion of their children. A bombshell flung into the home would create hardly more surprise or excitement than the spiritual awakening of a child. What a study is the face of the parents when the little one tremblingly says : "Mother, I love Jesus, and I want to obey him and serve him all the days of my life." I tell you it is a critical time. Ah, how many of us have to admit that it was precisely so in our homes when our children turned to the Lord. Of course, we longed some day to see our children Christians. Yes, we gave them to the Lord when they were born, for right heartily do we believe in infant dedication, though in Christ's name we oppose infant baptism. We had been praying for them ever since. We had taught them to pray and to study God's Word and to frequent God's house. And yet, notwithstanding all this, when the solemn but glad truth broke upon us that our boy or our girl is converted to Christ we were startled. We were slow to believe any change had taken place in their hearts. We feared at first to encourage them. We felt condemned that we had done so little to help them to the
Saviour. We trembled lest they might be mistaken. And then if we were not ourselves converted in childhood we were all the more unwilling to believe that they might be. At last, we followed the example of Mary — we submitted to God's way. Who can stand against God? "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? If God has called our children and they have heard him, we hug them to our hearts and, kissing their heads, we whisper with our tears : "It is all right, my son, my daughter ; do as you believe God
CONSECRATED CHILDHOOD. 219 would have von do. He has a claim on you higher and holier than mine." Fathers and mothers, let us never be astonished when our children are converted. It is our Father^s way, and his way is best. Let us not rebuke them when they tell us that they must be in their Father's house. Rather let us say: "My son, my daughter, my prayer is that I may begin my Christian life afresh with you today. Pray now for me as I have so often prayed for you, and we shall walk to heaven in each other's company." 1. 68 FREE BOOKS http://www.scribd.com/doc/21800308/Free-Christian-Books 2. ALL WRITINGS http://www.scribd.com/glennpease/documents?page=1000
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