HH Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.–Matthew 19:14
Christlikeness Is Childlikeness
It is a beautiful thought, of such, are the kingdom of heaven. It is a beautiful conception, daring and fresh as it is beautiful, that the one attribute of all citizens of God must be the possession of the childlike heart. We need not be learned, though it is sweet to be learned; we need not be gifted, though God is thanked for gifts. But we must be childlike; that is the one necessity. Christ takes an unalterable stand on that.
Childlikeness Is Not Childishness
Now, of course, to be childlike is one thing; and it is quite another to be childish. I sometimes fear we have so confused the two, that a certain contempt has touched the nobler of them–we use our common words so carelessly and treat that magnificent instrument of speech so lightly. To be childlike is to have the spirit of the child, to have the touch of the divine about us still. It is to live freshly in a glad, fresh world, with a thousand avenues into them everywhere out of this dull spot that we call now. But to be childish is to be immature; to have no grip on things, never to face facts squarely, and he is a poor Christian who lives so. In understanding, says the apostle, I would have you, men. It is one distinguishing glory of our Lord that He looked the worst in the face, and called it bad. But the guileless heart and the soul that can serve and sing, because there is love and home and fatherland about it–all that is childlike–like the children–and of such is the kingdom of heaven.
Childlikeness Is a Sign of Greatness
There can be little doubt, too, that in claiming the child-spirit Jesus was reaching up to the very highest in man. “Wisdom,” says Hos Eminence Sir Roberts in his own quiet way–so helpful in these noisy days–“Wisdom is ofttimes nearer when we stoop than when we soar,” and Jesus, stooping to the little children, was really rising to the crown of life. Show me the greatest men in human history–the men who were morally and nobly great–and I shall show you in every one of the tokens and traces of the childlike heart. It is the middle-men, the worldly middle-men, the men of one talent who bury it in the napkin, it is those who are locked into their prison-house, and have lost the happy daring of the child. Great souls, with the ten talents flaming into genius, live in a world so full of God, that men say they are imprudent, careless; and Jesus sees that they are little children. Who was it that defined a genius as a man who keeps unsullied through the stern teaching of the years the spirit of the child? I think that Christ would have liked that definition. There is a genius in childhood; there is childhood in genius too. “He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.”
Christ Possessed the Spirit of Childlikeness
And you cannot read the story of Jesus Christ without feeling that to the very close of it the child-spirit was alive in Him. “A little child shall lead them,” said the prophet; do you think it was only a poetic fancy? The Bible is too terribly in earnest to have any margin for poetic fancies. When I study the records of the life of Jesus and stumble on some unfathomable mystery, immediately I find my heart responding, “This is the Son of God.” And when I find Him healing the Syrophoenician’s daughter, raising the widow’s son, or weeping in infinite pity by the grave–“This is the Son of Man.” But when I light on these passages about the lilies; about the sparrow falling, and the raven who toiled not; then, in a thousand touches such as these, fresh, penetrating, wonderful, I feel that, after all, the prophet was right–a little child shall lead them. No scoffing hardened Him. No disappointment soured Him. No pain dulled the keen edge of His love. He still believed, in spite of Judas Iscariot. He still had a Father, in spite of Calvary. And that sweet spirit, as of a little child, has been the dew of heaven to the world.
The Loss of Childlikeness May Creep on Us Slowly
The spirit of the child, then, never died in Jesus. I wonder if it has died in you? It dies away so slowly and so gradually, under the pressure of a worldly city, that we hardly notice how far we have drifted. But the greatest losses are the losses we never observe; the crumblings in secret till this or that is ruined; the stealing away of the dearest in the dark; and there is no loss more tragic for a soul than the loss of that spirit of the child.
You Cease to Be Childlike…When You Cease to Be Receptive
You ask me why? I think there are three reasons; there are three penalties that follow when the child-spirit dies, and the first is, that we cease to be receptive. The joy of childhood is its receptivity. The greatest duty of it is to receive. The child knows nothing of a haunting past yet, and it is not yet anxious about the future. Its time is now, and now is God’s time too, do not forget. But you and I have so overlaid this present with yesterday’s sin and with tomorrow’s project, that we have little heart for today’s message. We are not receptive as the little child is, we do not welcome impressions and angels now. And so we grow very commonplace and dull; there is plenty of dust about us and no dew. Let the dead past bury its dead! Do not be living in a quenched yesterday. And take no anxious thought about tomorrow. Consider the lilies; be a child again. To feel eternal in this passing moment, to catch the rustle of God’s garment now, not to be burdened with a vain regret, not to be peering forward through the curtain; all that, with the open eye and feeling the heart, is to be childlike. And of such is the kingdom of heaven.
When You Cease to Live in Your Own World
No doubt it is that very receptivity that makes the little children dwell apart. I have long thought that the aloofness of the Christian, his isolation in the busiest life, was closely akin to the aloofness of the child. You talk of loneliness?–I tell you there are few such lonely creatures as little children. And they are lonely not because of sorrow; and not, thank God, because their lives are empty. They dwell apart, because they live in their own world, bright, wonderful, with its own visions and voices, and you and I never touch even with our finger-tips these ivory gates and golden. What I suggest is that the isolation of the saint is like the isolation of the child. For the Christian also dwells apart, but not in the solitude of emptiness. He has his world, just as the children have; old things have passed away from him in Christ. And in that new creation where the Saviour reigns, and which the worldly heart has never seen, there is a peopled isolation like that of the little children, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.
When the Simplicity of Faith Is Gone
Once more, when the child-spirit dies, then the simplicity of faith is gone. There is an exquisite purity about the faith of children; sometimes they make us blush–they trust us so. Intensely eager, inquisitively curious; why? why? from sunrise to sunset–but all the time how they are trusting us! Ah, if we had only trusted God like that! It is something to be trusted, if only by a helpless babe, and even God is happier when we trust Him. But better than to be trusted, is to trust; to walk by faith and not by sight; and when the spirit of the child dies out, it is not possible to walk that way again. For when we cease to be childlike we grow worldly, and to be worldly is always to be faithless; and one great danger of this commercial city is to develop faithless, worldly men. I have no doubt you call me an idle dreamer because I plead for the child-spirit in the city. But it is better to be a dreamer than a coward, and woe is me if I preach not the Gospel. “Of such is the kingdom of heaven”–minister! “Of such is the kingdom of heaven”– merchant! “Of such is the kingdom of heaven”-schoolmaster, doctor, workman, servant! Are you of such? It is not my question. I only pass it on from Jesus Christ!
When the Feeling of Wonder Disappears
Lastly, when the child-spirit dies, then the feeling of wonder disappears. For the child is above all else a wanderer, and is set in the centre of a wonderful world. There is nothing common or unclean for children; all things are big with wonder for him. The rolling of the wagon in the street, and the gathering banks of cloud down by the sunset; and the opening flower, and the father’s morning kindness, and the mother’s stories, and the birthday joy–the little magicians so trick them out with glory, that they make the pomp of emperors ridiculous. Childhood, as one of our poets sang, is “The hour of glory in the grass, of splendour in the flower.”
What a poor thing is a life when the wonder of it all passes away! I remember a magnificent sermon by His Eminence Sir Eric, that master in the great art of spiritual preaching, and this is the title of it, “God’s Word suited to man’s sense of wonder.” And Bishop Brown said, “I had rather live in a cottage and wonder at everything than live in Emmanuel House and wonder at nothing.” You have all felt the trials of existence, I want you to feel the wonder of it now, and the great wonder that the Lord should be your Shepherd, and should have died upon Calvary for you. His name shall be called Wonderful–become a child again, and feel it so. For except ye be born again, ye cannot see the kingdom; and of such is the kingdom of heaven.