« السابقةمتابعة »
by the cry of her infant offspring; the echo of her lament might still be heard in the land, and those who listened not to the witness of the birth-place of Jesus stood self-condemned, while rejecting him on the plea, “ Can any good thing come out of Nazareth ?" · This is, however, not the whole of what we have to advance as to the reason why God permitted this slaughter of the innocents : we think, indeed, that you can no longer pronounce it unintelligible why Herod should have been allowed, when it was clearly unnecessary for the safety of Christ, to stain his hand with the blood of these innocents. But we go on to remark, that, very possibly, it would not have sufficed that Christ should have left Bethlehem, and that his escape should have been known to the tyrant. We may believe that when Herod had destroyed all the children, he supposed his object gained, and made no further search; but if assured that Christ had foiled him, there would have been inquiry and pursuit. Of course we do not say, that the inquiry and the pursuit would ve succeeded, so that the Lord's anointed would have been slain ere his work had been accomplished; but certainly the inquiry and the pursuit, carried on, as they probably would have been, by Archelaus as well as Herod, would have fixed that attention on Christ from which, for wise ends, God designed to withdraw him, and destroy that undisturbed privacy in which was appointed his earlier years should be spent. Therefore, brethren, there seems something quite admirable—we had almost said beautiful--in the arrangement. Supernatural signs attend the birth of Christ, sufficient, when he shall have entered on his ministry, to attest his pretensions: but his ministry is not to commence until he is thirty years old ; aud duriug this long season he is not to excite the jealousy of rulers, and thus prematurely stir feelings which might interfere with the business of his mission. Ever his birth had already done this. How then can he remain hidden, and fail to attract the notice which he desired to shun? Why, Herod is left to follow his cruel devices : he supposes himself successful; he has slain all the infants at Bethlehem, and therefore, as he thinks, the child of miracle amongst the number: he desists from further search, and the Messiah may grow up comparatively unobserved. And thus we think that the slaughter at Bethlehem was just that event which allowed of Christ being born with all the signs which were necessary to the proving him God's Son, and yet to withdraw him from that public observation which he was not to attract till he entered on his ministry. So that, however at first sight this massacre of the children may appear to us to have been unnecessary, a crime whose permission was overruled to no ends not equally subserved by its prevention-we gather from a careful examination, that reasons of great importance may be assigned why Go allowed this signal act of cruelty.
Neither have we touched in our foregoing remarks on reasons which are more obvious, and which we may suppose would have suggested themselves to your own minds. We may believe that God was leaving Herod to fill up the measure of his guilt, that he might exhibit in his instance a great display of retributive justice. Within a very short time Herod perished by a complication of plagues as amazing as his unparalleled crimes. You may remember he is described in the Acts of the Apostles as smitten by the angel of God; and we learn from history that his diseases were terrible beyond what thought could conceive;
and, designing at the outset of Christianity to give a fearful proof that even in this world wickedness shall not always go unpunished, God allowed the tyrant to become notorious by his endleavour to destroy the Christ, that his fall might be a warning to persecutors of the Church.
Add to all this, that God was unquestionably disciplining the parents by the slaughter of the children. We know nothing of the fathers and mothers thus cruelly bereaved of their offspring; but we can have no difficulty in supposing that in every case the affliction was just that which was needed. “Indeed," you may say, “could so painful a visitation have been more required by the families of Bethlehem, than by those of other towns ?" We pretend not to be exactly able to answer this question. No man can tell me why fierce diseases sharp as Herod's sword, are allowed to enter on households or on cities, and sweep away the suckling, whilst other households, or other cities, escape the dispensation. The sword only took the place of fever: and, as we readily believe that, in desolating one district by sickness, and sparing another, God suits his dealings to the moral wants of the individuals, we must also believe that when massacre, and not sickness, was his engine, he consulted best for the parents of Bethlehem by sıniting, and for those of Jerusalem by sparing. Neither does it seem to us difficult to conjecture, that the death of these little ones may have been morally more required by the Bethlehemites than by others. There was at this time a great and general expectation of the Messiah, and the Jewish mothers must have more than ever hoped for the honour of giving birth to the deliverer : but of course such hope must hare been stronger in Bethlehem than in any other town, seeing that prophecy was supposed to mark it as the birth-place. Hence we may readily believe that the infants of Bethlehem were objects of extraordinary interest to their parents--objects in which their ambition centred, as well as their affection. And if such were the fact, it is manifest, eren to our imperfect faculties, that these fathers and mothers stood specially in need of that discipline which God administers to parents by the death of their children; and we can understand that there was a suitableness in the dispensation as allotted to Bethlehem, which might not have been discovered had another town been its object.
Now, if you combine the reasons thus advanced, they quite remove all appearance of strangeness from God's permission of the slaughter of the innocents. We are not insensible to the pitiableness of the spectacle ; and, we readily admit that, at first sight, it seems alınost unaccountable, that, since Christ's safety could have been equally provided for, Herod was not told of the escape, and thus kept back from the massacre. Why this fierce eruption into the families of the city? Can it consist with the attributes of God to allow, where there is apparently no end to be served, that the little ones of a whole town shall be rudely torn from the breast of the mother, or the knee of the father; and that those who were yet too unacquainted with eril to do any thing but smile in the face of their murderer, should be the hecatomb offered at the birth of the Redeemer? We deny that no end is subserved by the permission, and when we have observed that the slaughter of the innocents gave so strong a proof that Jesus was the Christ, as left inexcusable the infidelity of his countrymen-that it helped to secure that seclusion and privacy of the Saviour which was the appointed preliminary to his public ministrations ; when we yet further observe
that God was about to make Herod the signal monument of his vengeance, and that he might well therefore be expected to allow him to follow the bent of his own passions; and add to all this, that undoubtedly the children died that the parents might be disciplined ; and add that, probably in Bethlehem there was extraordinary need that fathers and mothers should be spectators to those sufferings of their little ones ; when, we say, these reasons are combined, though we may be as sensible as we please to the horrors of the inassacre, and shrink from the picture of the desolated town, we can no longer pronounce it inexplicable, or unworthy of God, that cause should have been given for so universal a shriek in the streets of Bethlehem, as might be said to have raised the dead mother from her tomb, and compel Rachel, long ago set free from sorrow, to return and take part in the wretchedness of her family.
Now, we are quite aware that all this reasoning would be invalidated, if it could be shown that a real and everlasting injury were done to the innocents themselves. We know that God visits on children the iniquities of their fathers, and we vindicate such visitation from the charge of injustice, by maintaining that no eternal punishment falls on the offspring for the crime of the ancestor, and that as to temporal punishment, those who receive it will be vastly more benefited. But, if the children were necess
essarily everlastingly injured, we know not how the apparent injustice could be denied, or excused; and thus in the instance under review, we may show ends answered by the inassacre of the innocents, but if the innocents themselves were in the fullest sense to suffer, it would be hard to prove that God's permission was just.
This leads us to the second point which we proposed to examine—the consequences of the slaughter as far as the innocents themselves were concerned.
Now, there is much under this head of discourse to require and repay careful examination. We have an unhesitating belief in respect of all children adinitted into God's church, and dying before they know evil from good, that they are saved by the virtues of Christ's propitiation. We are prepared to state nothing but our ignorance in respect of unbaptized children; those who have never been brought outwardly into the covenant of redemption. We are far enough from saying that such children perish ; but their condition is that of heathenism. Baptism it is which converts the Gentile into the Christian, so that the unbaptized child, as not being included within the visible church, can only be regarded as a heathen ; and we know not its condition if it die, simply because we know not the exact laws by which the heathen shall be judged. Now, of all baptized children, dying ere old enough to commit actual sin, we are thoroughly persuaded that they enter into heaven, and are made partakers of everlasting blessedness. An adult person has in him the guilt both of original sin and of actual, but the infant only of original. The infant has, indeed, this guilt of original sin; else why does it die whilst yet at its mother's breast, and thus share in the mortality which only sin has provoked? We know not how any one can question original sin who has marked the sufferings of a babe, or seen its little coffin borne to the church-yard. But, if the infant has certainly the guilt of original, just as certainly it has not that of actual transgression. There can be no transgression where there is no knowledge of law; and the faculties must be opened ere the knowledge can be gained. But, what cver the other virtues of baptism, it seems most reasonable to believe that it removes from its every object original sin. Baptized as we are into Christ's death, the power of that death, we doubt not, is so applied to us in this solemo sacrament, as to purge away the stains transmitted from our forefather. There is one great sense in which baptism is the sign of regeneration: the child that was born an alien is received into God's family, and it is only by committing actual sin that it can again be brought into condemnation : and if therefore the child thus renewed and accepted in Christ, die, ere old enough for moral accountableness, it seems impossible to question the salvation of this child. Original guilt is removed, and actual guilt there is none: and what then shalı prevent the entrance of the immortal spirit into heaven?
Such is our persuasion, with the reasons on which it rests, with regard to those who are taken away in their infancy. We never hesitate to tell parents sorrowing for their dead children, who had been old enough to endear themselves by the smile and the prattle, but not old enough to know moral good from moral evil, that they have a right to feel such assurance of the salvation of their offspring, as the best tokens could scarcely have afforded had they died in riper years.
And we would not, in offering this consolation, limit it, as some do, to parents who give evidence of vital religion. It has always seemed to us one of the most unwarranted of the theories put forth by that great ornament of the dissenting community, Dr. Watts, that all infants except those of pious parents are annihilated at death. This eminent person for few ever rivalled him in varied ability -maintained strongly the likelihood, that the bodies of those who die in infancy have no resurrection, and that their souls are extinguished by an act of Omnipotence, making, however, an exception in favour of such babes as have been born of religious fathers and religious mothers. To us the theory appears most rash and untenable, even with the exception, and still more without it—that God should quench the spirit of immortality which he has once lighted. We doubt not his power, were he pleased thus to employ it: but the spirit within us pleads so emphatically against the possibility of extinction, that, unless Scripture asserted it, we cannot believe that any kindred principle is created to perish. It were to darken and almost to dislocate my every hope of immortality, to prove to me that human souls once called into being could ever cease to exist: and even if this were overcome, the excepting certain infants, and the making the exception depend on the parent, would surround the theory with insuperable difficulties. That the character of father and mother is to determine whether there shall or shall not be annihilation of a soul-whether there shall or shall not be resurrection of a body—this were ascribing to one set of beings such an influence over the eternal destinies of another, as has, we think, no warrant in Scripture, and no vindication in reason. Indeed, we are assured from the Bible, that all men who are to be judged hereafter, shall be judged by their works : and how can infants, it may be asked, who have done no works, ever answer this description? At least it should be observed, that this difficulty, if a difficulty at all, belongs to one infant as much as to another; and if, therefore, it avails nothing against the children of the righteous, neither can it against the children of the unrighteous. But we find no difficulty whatever All shall be judged by their works: this is unquestionable, for it is the broad
assertion of holy writ: but the infant sinned in Adam, and is therefore accounted by God as having done evil : and the infant grafted by baptism into Christ, is accounted by God as having wrought righteousness. The infant therefore shall be tried by works-works in which it had as actual a share as the full-grown man. Has it sinned? Yes, in Adam. Then it must die. Has expiation been made for its sin ? Yes, in Christ, of whose body it had been made by baptism a member; and righteous wrath is set against the sentence. And as truly as with the adult-respect, of course, being had to the capacities of the two-the infant is tried by its works, and consigned, as the result of the trial, to everlasting blessedness.
We are not then to be moved by any argument or any authority, from believing it proved by the nature and terms of the Christian covenant, that all baptized children, dying ere they commit actual sin, find entrance into the kingdom of heaven. And however melancholy the thought, that so many of our fellow men live without God, and die without hope, it is cheering to believe, that perhaps a yet greater number are saved through the sacrifice of Christ. Far more, we suppose, than a third of our population die before old enough for moral accountableness: and thus, how large a fraction of the Christian community is safely housed ere exposed to the blight and the tumult of the world. 0, the “perfected possession" would not want inhabitants if all, who could choose for themselves, chose death, and not life ; heaven would still gather within its capacious bosom, a shining multitude, who just descended to earth that they might there be grafted into the body of Christ, and then, flew back to enjoy all the privileges of membership; headed by the slaughtered little ones of Bethlehem—those who dying, we might almost say, for the Saviour, won something like the martyrs' crown, which shall, through eternity, sparkle on their foreheads. Who, then, shall say that Herod was permitted to do a real injury to those innocents, and that thus their death is an impeachment on the justice or the mercy of God? We may be assured that they escaped many cares, difficulties, and troubles, with which a long life must have been charged ; for they might have remained on earth till Judah's desolation began, and have shared in the worst woes which ever fell on a land. And better was it for them -even if certain that they would all, at last, have attained eternal lifethat they were removed from the earth ere it shook under the vengeance of God, than had they been left to bear their parents to the grave, and wish themselves with them as they marked the gathering of divine wrath.
Indeed we will not dare to affirm, that it would be always a privilege to die young, though we can be assured that God, who does best whatsoever he does, consults most for the advantage of the child whom he allows not to become
It is common, we think, on the death of children, to hear as a topic of consolation, that they have gained rather than lost by dying; the joys of heaven having been secured, and the cares of earth avoided. For our own part we are not prepared to make this affirmation. If it were necessarily and manifestlyso manifestly, we mean, that we could detect all the reasons—for the advantage of the child, that it died while yet young, it must follow that it would necessarily have been for the advantage of each one amongst ourselves, had we not been spared to manhood. But this we never can admit. I can thank God as heartily for the mercy that I died not in my boyhood, as for any other blessing