And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them.
I. It should be noted carefully that the parties who objected to the bringing little children to Christ were not Scribes and Pharisees, the unbelieving Jews who recognized nothing Divine in the mission of our Lord, BUT ACTUALLY HIS DISCIPLES. They perhaps considered it entailing unnecessary fatigue on their Master, that He should have to receive the young as well as the old; or that no sufficient end was to be answered by bringing little children to Christ. They would have understood the use of bringing a lame child to Him, though too young to exercise faith; but they had no idea of a child in bodily health deriving any advantage from contact with Christ. The parents judged better than the disciples. Knowing that by God's express command the rite of circumcision was administered to infants, they concluded, as we may suppose, that infancy of itself was no disqualification for a religious privilege, and that if there was anything spiritual in the mission of Christ, it might be communicated to the young as well as the old. If we delay religious instruction, under the idea that it is too difficult or too abstruse for a very young mind, are we not acting in much the same way as the disciples? In after life there is no greater impediment to religion than the want of proper habits of self-discipline and control. It may therefore be justly considered, that whatever tends to the forming such habits facilitates the coming to our Lord for His blessing. Then, what want of faith is there in the education of children. Parents are actually suspicious of the Bible, even when desirous of instilling its truths into their children. They run to good books to make the Bible easy and amusing, whose business it is to dilute and simplify the Word, ridding it of mysteries, and adapting it to juvenile understandings. But this is virtually withholding the children from Christ. Remember that for the most part what is mystery to a child is to a man. If I strive to make intelligible what ought to be left mysterious, I do but nourish in the child the notion of his being competent to understand all truth, and prepare him for being disgusted if he finds himself in riper years called upon to submit reason to faith. Do not let it seem to you a harsh accusation — consider it well, and you will have to confess it grounded upon truth — that whensoever there is dilatoriness in commencing the correction of tempers, which too plainly prove the corruption of nature, or the substitution of other modes of instruction for the Bible itself, or any indication, more or less direct, of a feeling that there must be something intermediate, that children are not yet ready for the being brought actually to the Saviour, we identify your case with that of our Lord's disciples, who, when some sought for infants the benediction of Christ, rashly and wrongfully "rebuked those that brought them."
II. But now let us mark more particularly OUR BLESSED LORD'S CONDUCT, IN REGARD TO THE CHILDREN and those who would have kept them from Him. When he observed the endeavour of the disciples to prevent the children being brought, you read that "He was much displeased." The original word marks great indignation. It is used on one or two other occasions in the New Testament, when very strong feelings were excited. For example, "When the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna, to the Son of David, they were sore displeased:" it is the same Greek word. Again: on the occasion of the woman's pouring on Christ's head an alabaster box of very precious ointment, "when His disciples saw it, they had indignation — the same word — saying, To what purpose is this waste?" These instances show you that the word denotes a very high degree of dissatisfaction, anger being more excited than sorrow, as though the thing done were specially offensive and criminal. It is never again used in connection with Christ; Christ is never again said to have been "much" or "sorely displeased." On the occasion of having little children kept from Him, bat on no other occasion, did Christ show Himself "sorely displeased." What an indication of His willingness to receive little children! What a declaration as to the duty of bringing to Him little children; and the sinfulness, in any measure or on any account, of withholding them from Him! And, perhaps, many children would go to Christ, if they were but suffered to go. Christ draws their young hearts; but how often are serious thoughts discouraged in children! How little advantage is taken of indications of youthful piety! Then, again, what inconsistencies they perceive in those around them! and who quicker than children in detecting inconsistencies? They are as sharp-sighted in their discernment of the faults of their superiors, as if they had been born critics, or bred up for censors. But inconsistencies will stop them, just when they might be determining on taking the first step towards Christ; and we do not "suffer" them to go, if by anything in our example we interfere with their going, putting some sort of hindrance — and it need not be a high one for young feet to stumble at. Yea, and we may actually "forbid them." This is our Lord's next expression; and it indicates more active opposition than when He only requires us to suffer. Evidently the worldly-minded parent or instructor forbids the children from coming to Christ, when he discountenances any religious tendency; when he manifests his fear of a young person becoming too serious, too fond of reading the Bible, too disposed to avoid gay amusements, and cultivate the society of such as care for the soul. This is the more open sort of forbidding. Not but what there is a yet more open: when children or young persons are actually prevented from what they are inclined to do in the matter of religion, and forced into scenes and associations which they feel to be wrong. It is not thus, however, that "disciples" — any who may be parallel with those to whom our Lord addressed His remonstrance — are likely to prevent little children. But are there no other ways of forbidding? Indeed, a young mind is very easily discouraged; more especially in such a thing as religion, towards which it needs every possible help, and from which it may be said to have a natural swerving. A look will be enough; the slightest hint; nay, even silence will have the force of a prohibition. There may be needed a stern command to withhold from an indulgence, but a mere glance of the eye may withhold from a duty. Not to encourage, may be virtually to forbid. The child soon catches this; he soon detects the superior anxiety which the parent exhibits for his progress in what is called learning, the comparative coldness as to his progress in piety. He quickly becomes aware of the eye being lit up with greater pleasure at an indication of talent, than at a sign of devotion. And thus the child is practically "forbidden" to come to Christ. He is practically told that there is something preferable to his coming to Christ.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them.