10. Childhood, Youth and Old Age
How does a little child differ from a young man, and a young man from an old man? Physically the young man is taller than the child and stronger, and the old man is becoming bowed and wrinkled. But are there no more important differences? Are there not spiritual qualities developed with each stage of life, which are even more characteristic than the physical? If the spiritual development does not take place, we say that one is still a child, even though he grows in body. If it advances faster than usual, we say that one is "old for his years." The spiritual qualities of each age are what concern us when we think spiritually. We must think of these if we would understand the inner meaning of Bible verses which speak of childhood, youth, and old age.
What spiritual qualities are characteristic of childhood? Children are not able to reason; they are not wise. These things belong to other times of life. But little children are innocent; they are gentle and trustful. Evil feelings which will awaken in after years are not yet aroused, but the children's hearts are open to the influence of good angels of the Lord. "Their angels," the Lord said, "do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven." (matt. xviii. 10; H. H. 295; A. C. 2303.) In these first years there is laid up in children's hearts a store of innocent and holy states, which, as they grow older, are a rebuke to evil when it awakens, and are a means of keeping them open to the influence of heaven. (A. C. 561, 5342.) If we choose one word to describe the quality of childhood, we cannot find a better word than innocence. We must think of innocence when childhood is mentioned in the Bible. (A. C. 430, 5608.)
We shall see that the shade of meaning varies as children of different ages are mentioned: sucklings, who are in simple innocence; babes, who are learning to love their parents; and boys and girls, who love one another. (A. C. 3183.) We shall see also that the innocence of little children is taken as a type of the still deeper innocence of those who are born again, and become spiritually as little children, learning to love their Heavenly Father above all things, and their neighbor as themselves. (A. C. 5236.)
The Lord called little children to Him, saying: "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily 1 say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them." (mark x. 14-16.) The Lord showed not only His love for those little children and for all little children, but His love of innocence which is the beginning of His kingdom. (A. C. 5608.) Again they asked Him: " Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. . . . Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven." (matt. xviii. 1-6, 10.) Innocence is the greatest thing in the kingdom of heaven, because it is the inmost, the central thing, and the root of all that is heavenly. (A. C. 5608, 4797, 1616.) "Whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me." In receiving innocence, we are receiving the Lord. "Their angels do always behold the face of my Father," when applied to states of innocence in ourselves, means that such states are open to the Heavenly Father's love. (A. E. 412.) The danger to our spiritual life of wilfully destroying the states of innocence which the Lord has given us, is taught in the words, "Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better . . . that he were drowned in the depth of the sea." (A. E. 1182; A. C. 9755.)
The Lord said, " I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes." (matt. xi. 25.) Only an innocent heart, and one humbly conscious of its feebleness, has a perception of the truths of heavenly life. They cannot be received in a state of pride and self-confidence. (A. C. 5608; H. H. 353.) Solomon, in his vision, confessed, "I am but a little child;" and the Lord answered, "Lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart." (1 kings iii. 7, 12)
"Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger." (Ps. viii. 2.) How beautifully it tells of the precious store of innocence laid up in our childhood as a source of strength in the temptations of later years! (A. C. 3183.) The children praising the Lord in the temple (matt. xxi. 16) were accepted as a fulfilment of the Psalm. They also represent the innocence in our hearts, which alone can acknowledge and receive the Lord, keeping us faithful to Him. (A. C. 5236.) "A little child shall lead them." (Isa. xi. 6.) How true that innocence leads us safely into all the blessedness of heaven! The coming of the Lord is especially meant, and that His Divine innocence made possible to man all things of heavenly life. The prophecy continues: "And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain." (isa. xi. 8, 9.) The safety of innocence against all harm is described; especially the safety which the presence of the Lord's Divine innocence among men brought to those in heaven and in His church, which are His holy mountain. (A. C. 5608, 10132.)
As in a good sense children represent innocence and the beginnings of heavenly life, so we can see they may sometimes stand for the beginnings of falsity and evil. Thus we read of Babylon, "Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones." (Ps. cxxxvii. 9; A. E. 411; A. C. 2348.)
As we grow from childhood to youth, much of the innocence disappears; and what new quality is developed characteristic of the new stage of life? A quick, active intelligence is developed, which delights to exercise itself in learning and in reasoning. (A. C. 3183, 7668, 10225.) Remember how our Lord at twelve years old, which with the Jews marked the end of childhood, questioned with the doctors in the temple, "and all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers." (Luke ii. 47; A. C. 1457; T. C. R. 89.) Contrast with the day, years after, when "all bear him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth." (Luke iv. 22.) It is an intellectual strength and quickness which belong to youth, not the deep wisdom of experience; and our intellectual strength is at first natural, critical, and self-confident. (A. C. 1949, 2679.)
Of the destruction of Damascus we read: "How is the city of praise not left, the city of my joy! Therefore her young men shall fall in her streets, and all the men of war shall be cut off in that day." (JER. xlix. 25, 26.) And almost the same is said of Babylon. (jer. 1. 30.) States of life are described when through evil all intelligence is destroyed. (A. E. 652.) "Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall; but they that wait upon the lord shall renew their strength." (isa. xl. 30, 31.) It shows the feebleness of our natural intelligence till we trust in the Lord to guide us. The renewing of our strength involves also the thought that the Lord will help us to employ our intelligence in useful work. (A. C. 3901; A. R. 244.) "It is good that a man should both hope and patiently wait for the salvation of the lord. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth." (lam. iii. 26, 27.) How gently do these verses rebuke the impatience and self-confidence of youthful intelligence! They show the need of submitting to correction, and of turning the intelligence to useful service.
Remember the rich young man who came running to the Lord, and asked, "Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?' (matt. xix. 16-22.) You remember the young man's confidence, "All these [commandments] have I kept from my youth up; what lack I yet?" And the Lord's words: "There is none good but one, God. . . . Go sell that thou hast, and give to the poor." The young man's riches picture intellectual stores held self-confidently. The needful thing is to trust the Lord instead of one's self, and to employ the store of learning in humble usefulness. (A. C. 4744 end; A. E. 934.)
As we advance through the temptations and active labors of life to old age, there should come a softening and deepening of the character. Intelligence should be ripened by experience in practical usefulness into wisdom. Old age should be again like childhood, dependent and innocent; but the innocence is now wise, knowing the dangers of life, and the power of the Lord to protect from them. The characteristic of true old age is wisdom. (A. C. 10225, 6524; A. E. 270.)
In the book of Job we read: "With aged men is wisdom; and in length of days understanding." (Job xii. 12, Revised Version; A. C. 6524.) And in the Psalm, " I understand more than the aged, because I have kept thy precepts." (Ps. cxix. 100, Revised Version.) Here the aged evidently mean the wise. (A. C. 6524.)
Many passages picture the decay of the church and the destruction of spiritual life under figure of the overthrow of Jerusalem and the slaughter of its inhabitants. " Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women; but come not near any man upon whom is the mark." (Ezek. ix. 6.) The little children are innocence, the young men are intelligence, the old men are wisdom, which are lost. Where goodness is found in the intelligence, it is the saving mark. (A. E. 270, 315.) Again: "The young and the old lie on the ground in the streets: my virgins and my young men are fallen by the sword; thou hast slain them in the day of thine anger; thou hast killed and not pitied." (lam. ii. 21.) Here also the old men represent wisdom, and the young men intelligence, which are destroyed. (A. E. 315.) There are many such sad prophecies, but there are also joyful ones.
"Thus saith the lord of hosts: There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for very age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof." (zech. viii. 4, 5.) The old men are representatives of wisdom. Leaning upon the staff is a symbol of leaning upon the Lord, and the bowed feebleness of old age becomes a picture of humility and of the sense that we need the Divine support, which is characteristic of wisdom. "Every man with his staff in his hand for very age." (A. E. 727.) The boys and girls are the developments of innocence, both truth and goodness. (A. E. 863; A. C. 2348.)
John saw about the throne "four and twenty elders sitting." (Rev. iv. 4.) They represent the wisdom of the heavens (A. E. 270; A. C. 5313), especially the spiritual heaven which is most in the enjoyment of truth from the Lord. (A. E. 322, 462.) So also the elders of Israel, who were so often instructed by Moses, and who helped in leading the people (Exod. iii. 16, xvii. 5), represent the highest things of wisdom, most able to be instructed by the Lord. (A. C. 7062, 7912.)
The wisdom of old age, in a broad sense, involves all the weaning from the things of earth and the rounding out of heavenly character, which belong to that time of life. (A. C. 3016.) "Honor thy father and thy mother," we are commanded, "that thy days may be long upon the land." (Exod. xx. 12.) "Because he hath set his love upon me . . . with long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation." (Ps. xci. 14, 16.) Do those who honor their parents and love the Lord necessarily live many years? Natural blessings were indeed given to the Jews, because they could appreciate no others; but, for us, is not the long life promised, rather a full development of heavenly character? (A. C. 3703, 8898; A.E. 304.) On the other hand, it is said, " Bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days." (Ps. lv. 23.) Among the glad predictions for the church is this: "There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days; for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner an hundred years old shall be accursed." (ISA. lxv. 20.) It is a promise that in the happy time, life shall reach full spiritual development; innocence shall grow to perfect wisdom. (A C. 2636.)
The words, "But the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed," show that as little children sometimes represent the beginnings of evil life, so old age may mean states of evil filled full and confirmed. (A. C. 2348.)
"Both young men and maidens, old men and children; let them praise the name of the lord." (Ps. cxlviii. 12, 13.) For every development of heavenly life we should thank the Lord. And each development of life can praise Him by serving the use for which He gives it. (P. P.; A. C. 5236.)