Of Children's Inclusion
Jesus said: "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God," (Mark 10:14).
Of whom did Jesus speak these words? In the context we read of parents who brought their children to Christ that "he should touch them," (Mark 10:14). That these were children of believing parents is indicated plainly by their coming to Jesus and their bringing their children with the desire that He should bless them. By the words, "of such," Jesus teaches that of such sort of children, children of believing parents, "is the kingdom of God." Nor were these simply young children, perhaps school-aged or toddlers, for the word used in the gospel of Luke refers specifically to infants (Luke 18:16). These infants of believers belong to Christ and are included in His church and kingdom.
When Jesus said, "Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein," (Mark 10:15) He teaches us that both adults and children enter God's kingdom in the same way, by the same work of grace. He points us not merely to a childlike simplicity of faith, but to the very way of entering the kingdom of God, which He explains in John 3:3, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Being born again is the way for the adult as well as the smallest child. Apart from spiritual rebirth, no one can see and enter the kingdom by faith. God is able to work this grace of rebirth in adults, and God is able to work this grace of rebirth, in its beginning, in the hearts of the smallest children who are His. They are of the kingdom of God then, not by their natural birth, but only by this working of grace, which has its origin in God alone. As Jesus said, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit," (John 3:6). If we teach that children are excluded from receiving this grace of rebirth, then we should also teach that no adult can receive the kingdom of God, since the salvation of adults depends on that same spiritual rebirth from above. But note well that there is in this a God-given order of salvation. We are born again of grace in the Spirit and therefore believe. Faith is God's gift, which He works by spiritual rebirth, in the hearts of children and adults.
This is why we read that Jesus not only said, "of such is the kingdom of God," but that He also "...took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them," (Mark 10:16). By His actions Jesus testified that God is pleased to work the grace by which we are born again in the hearts of the children of believing parents. True, Jesus does not say that every child, head for head, is saved any more than that every adult baptized with water is saved. But of the children of believers, as a body, He says, "of such is the kingdom of heaven." Of such He holds as His own, of such are His sheep for whom He dies. For it is also grace alone that saves the children.
What is the response of Jesus to those who would exclude the children? We read that He was "much displeased" with His disciples for hindering the children, (Mark 10:14) for His Father's will was being despised. Having learned what Jesus taught them that day, the disciples later preached to the Jews, "...the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call" (Acts 2:39). To the Gentiles afar off they preached the same word, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house," (Acts 16:31). Those who believed they baptized into His kingdom, baptizing also their households (Acts 10:44-48; 16:15, 33, 34). They put Jesus' doctrine into practice. This is the gospel and practice of the apostolic church. One who excludes the children of believers from baptism, the sign of the washing of regeneration or rebirth, says they have no part in Christ, in the grace of being born again, or in the promises of His kingdom. This is displeasing to the Lord Jesus.
At issue here is not simply the ordinance of baptism but the gospel itself. Jesus came to save His people from their sins. They were given Him of the Father. He does not come to save mere individuals. While salvation is personal, it is not individualistic. God created families when He created marriage. The fall into sin while it brought misery and death upon marriage and family, did not destroy, by God's grace, the will of God. That will of God was in the union of one man and one woman, among His believing people to gather His church in the generations of believers, "that he might seek a godly seed," Mal. 2:15. He promised that that seed would be gathered in the generations of His people as a spiritual seed--the seed of the woman ( Gen. 3:15), the seed of Noah (Gen. 6:16; Gen. 9:9), the seed of Abraham (Gen. 17:7). Centrally that seed is Christ (Rev. 12, Gal. 3:16), but in Christ believers also are made that spiritual seed of promise (Gal. 3:29, Gal. 4:28). It is this seed of promise, the work of His grace, that God in Christ is pleased to gather in the generations of believers (Gen. 17:7). It is to this wondrous work of God that Jesus constantly refers when He speaks of the children of believers, Mark 10:14, Matt 18:14. Indeed Jesus takes little children in his arms repeatedly and sets them in the midst of His disciples. Nor are they mere object lessons. They are the "little ones that believe in me," Matt. 18:6, Mark 9:42. Jesus brings salvation not to individuals only but to a believer and his house. He can say in the light of God's covenant promise to Abraham (Gen. 17:7) concerning not only Zacchaeus, but also his family, "This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham," Luke 19:9.
Our Saviour views the grace of salvation as one which God sets in families. The Christian family is a body. The church as the body of Christ is made up not of mere individuals, certainly not of adults only, but normally of households. While not every individual who is a member of a church is saved, nor is every child of believers, God saves a church and He saves households. This has to do with the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is the God Whose "faithfulness is unto all generations," Ps. 119:90. Children for believers are "an heritage of the Lord," Ps. 127:3. Jesus is the Shepherd of Whom it is said, "He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young," Isa. 40:11. Therefore He says, "Of such is the kingdom of God," Mark 10:14 and to Peter, not only "feed my sheep" but "feed my lambs," John 21:15.
At issue is the gospel of Christ. That the church consists of families who stand before God by faith in dependence on His grace was true in the Old Testament (II Chron. 20:13). It is no less true in the New Testament. While adult men stand on the foreground in the baptism of John the Baptist, they do so not solely as individuals, but as heads of households, since it is all Jerusalem and Judea, who go out to him to be baptized (Matt. 3:5; Mark 1:5). Nor does Jesus feed mere individuals in His miracles of the feeding of the five thousand and four thousand. Families came to him. The numbers represented only the men, most of whom were heads of households (Matt. 14:21; 15:38). Jesus' miracles embrace children who are raised from the dead, healed of sickness, and delivered from the power of demons. In all that Jesus says and does, (and the apostles after Him) this principle runs: that God saves His people in families and gathers His church of believing households. Zacchaeus and his house are saved, Cornelius and his house, Lydia and her house, the Philippian jailor and his house. The promises of the gospel of which the Gentiles are now heirs (Gal. 3:29) and fellow citizens (Eph. 2:19) are at stake.
Exactly for this reason no Baptist, however Calvinistic he may be in certain respects, is a genuine Calvinist. The truth of the fall in Adam is that the human family fell into total depravity. The truth of election is that God in Christ wills to redeem to Himself a people out of all nations, a family gathered according to election in the generations of elect believers. The truth of particular redemption is that Christ died to save His people from their sins, also the lambs of His flock gathered in the generations of believers, so that "of such is the kingdom of God," (Mark 10:14). Jesus blesses the children held in His arms in Mark 10:16 because the children of believers are the objects of His irresistible grace. And the little ones of His kingdom shall surely be saved because, "Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish," Matt. 18:14. This is authentic and complete Calvinism. It is also the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
By Rev. Thomas Miersma, Missionary Pastor
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