Date: May 7, 1931
Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord. – Psalm 127:3
THIS week the nation pauses—and it does well in pausing—to observe its annual Child Health Week. Wherever childhood is neglected or retarded; wherever a people exposes its infants, as in China, drowns its baby girls, as in India, sells its offspring into slavery, as in Africa, or takes its children out of the home and socializes them in a Communist nursery as in Soviet Russia, there we have one of the major causes contributing to the sorrows and disasters that must inevitably overwhelm that nation. And because in our own country, as in every country, the history of tomorrow will be written by the youth of today, we ought to thank God with all the fervor of heart-deep gratitude that such intelligent and wide-spread interest is displayed in the proper development of America’s 35,000,000 children and that specialized attention is focused upon the ten million of these who for one reason or another, either because they are improperly nourished, because they are mentally or physically retarded, or because they are delinquent and offer behavior problems, need the special care of intelligent and loving watchfulness.
Yet, while laying this commendable stress on the physical well-being of our American boys and girls, we dare not be indifferent to the far greater concern of their spiritual welfare and the development of their souls. We want and we need healthy and happy children; but it is even more imperative for our domestic and national well-being to have morally healthy and spiritually happy children. So tonight, on the basis of this striking statement of the psalmist, “Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord,” let me emphasize some of the fundamental teachings of the Bible concerning childhood and show you that God looks to American fathers and mothers, present and future, for a profound appreciation of the privilege of parenthood and for a corresponding readiness to bring up their children, as required by the Scriptures, “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”
A DIVINE HERITAGE—IN SPITE OF MODERN DISPARAGEMENT.
When our text calls children “an heritage of the Lord,” that is, the gift of love which a bountiful Father bequeaths to His sons and daughters, it takes an attitude toward childhood which is directly and determinedly opposed to much of modern thought. Today, in our era of diminished families, when the graduates of our select women’s colleges exclude themselves from motherhood and when all the modern theories for the looseness of the marriage relation are built up on the idea of childless families, children are frequently regarded as inconvenient restrictions and unnecessary hindrances in life. Only in this way can we explain the motive behind our steadily decreasing birth-rates and the corresponding diminution in the number of the fine large families so frequent a generation or two ago.
Now, I know that it has been only a few weeks since a large body of American churchmen gave to the press of the nation what is virtually an endorsement of birth control, as that term is popularly understood. But I would not want my hearers to think for a moment that this or any other similar disparagement of the divine gift of children and the nobility of parenthood settles the issue either from the point of view of morals or of Christianity. I like to hark back to that lone Friar of Wittenberg, standing before the assembled powers of Church and State four hundred years ago, declaring that Church Councils and Church Fathers have erred and made mistakes. In the same spirit I say tonight that, if that endorsement of birth control were signed by every church-body in the country, it would simply be a nation-wide misinterpretation (to put it mildly) of the plain statements and the emphatic spirit of the Word of God. For here is the very first command that God gave to the human race, the injunction issued to the first parents, but binding under normal conditions upon every subsequent husband and wife, “Be fruitful and multiply.” Here is the statement of our text, “Children are”—not nuisances, not the means of impoverishing their parents, not a sign of low and common family ideals, but, according to that Word that never made a mistake and that never will make a mistake—“an heritage of the Lord.” Here in the 128th Psalm is the description of the happy man, with his wife and children round about his table, as branches of the verdant olive-tree. Here in the 38th chapter of Genesis is the tragic sentence of displeasure pronounced and executed by God Himself upon a man who refused to accept the privilege of parenthood.
But I hear some one say that times have changed and that today the wilful limitation of offspring gives the only child in a family a far better chance in life than that child would enjoy if he had four or five brothers and sisters. I will not question the sincerity of this objection because people may be sincere and still be mistaken; but I will content myself merely with pointing out that God’s dispensations to His children are always for their benefit and blessing and that the child in the large family has the better chance in life according to the investigation of research workers at Yale University, according to the very definite proof in the Hall of Fame in New York, and in the long list of eminent men and women of America. The single child has patently labored under a disadvantage, while the boy or girl with brothers and sisters has found such relationship to be helpful and stimulating.
Again, some one objects that bringing children into the world takes its toll in a mother’s health and happiness and that therefore they can hardly be called “heritages” in the full sense of this term. But this, too, is just another of the modern perversions by which a selfish tendency tries to justify its selfishness. On the very contrary, when motherhood is deliberately and systematically avoided, by following methods that are despicable, no matter how exalted the endorsements may be which are placed, upon them by men of medicine and men of religion, there you have the direct origin of many of the physical failings of our day and of the weakening of the bodily constitution of many of our American women. And if you want to hear what God says about this, open your Bible at 1 Tim. 2, 15, and you will find the divine statement that women “shall be saved in child-bearing if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety”—and thus find their greatest happiness in life.
Some one else suggests that, when a mother is obliged to spend her time with her children, she is immediately cut off from all social and professional activities and that the pursuit of her career is restricted. Now, in this age of advanced feminism, when the line of demarcation that separates the activities and the habits and the pastimes of men from those of women is being obliterated by a steady and pernicious process, it will certainly sound puritanical and out of date to tell the women of our nation that, if the alternative that confronts them is either cradle or career, under normal circumstances they can serve their own interests, the happiness of their home, and the welfare of their communities best by mothering the precious mites of humanity that are given to them as the heritage of God. I say this without the slightest disparagement of the fine accomplishments in all walks of life that have been recorded by noble, talented, or self-sacrificing women in those isolated and exceptional instances, when Divine Providence has employed the extraordinary abilities of this wife or of that mother for far-reaching and constructive purposes. But in the usual conditions of the average home we must be guided by that evident principle of Scripture that woman’s highest glory, her field of sublimest distinction, lies not in the froth of human glory nor in the tinsel of social preeminence nor in the fading mirage of commercial or industrial distinctions, but in the privilege of being a faithful wife and a good, cheerful, loving mother of good, healthy, happy children. And next Sunday, when we bring our tributes to the mothers who gave us our lives, whose loving care protected us during the perils of infancy, and to whose prayers and intercession for our soul’s welfare we are inexpressibly indebted, all this is in direct harmony with that Scriptural picture of the happy Christian mother whose children “rise up to call her blessed.”
Here, then, is the fundamental attitude of the Scriptures toward children: They are the gift of God’s love, “an heritage of the Lord.” Remember this, you, the Hannahs and the Sarahs of modern life, to whom, in the unsearchable ways of God’s love it has not been given to cuddle on your breast a child of your own. Remember this in that fervent, effectual prayer that “availeth much,” so that, if it be the will of the Father, who “doeth all things well” and with whom “nothing is impossible,” you may be given this happiness. Remember it also when you behold a child, orphaned and bereft of the greatest human gift in life, a mother’s love. And as you think of the happiness that your affection, the warmth that your comfortable home, could extend to that child, may you hear the Savior, as He raises His arms in benediction, tell you: “Whoso shall receive one such little child in My name receiveth Me.”
A DIVINE HERITAGE THAT MUST BE GUARDED.
Now, this priceless heritage must be guarded with the most vigilant and painstaking love. It will not be necessary for me tonight to emphasize that such concern embraces the bodily care and the physical growth of the children. For that is something that is instinctive, even in irrational creatures. You have all seen a mother robin feed and protect her fledglings and hover over them with chattering anxiety. You have all read of the maternal fury into which a lioness may be lashed when an approach is made toward her cubs. What a perversion of nature, then, when parents shirk the responsibilities of providing for their children because of avarice or lack of love for their own flesh and blood!
Neither must I speak at length on the parental duty to help children to advance mentally and socially. If it were possible to speak personally and individually to you fathers and mothers in my audience tonight, I am sure that you would tell me that you have high and hopeful plans for the development of your children. Arthur is to be an engineer. You are stinting yourselves on this pleasure and denying yourselves that enjoyment, so that Helen may remain at college. Even in this depression you are trying to make arrangements, so that little Henry can have a few weeks in a boys’ camp this summer. And the love behind all this is commendable, provided your interest in your children is not restricted to this, so that you neglect the one thing that is supremely needful and turn a deaf ear to the invitation of that gentle Savior who took the little ones into His divine arms and declared, “Suffer the little children to come unto Me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God.” The apostolic admonition to modern parents in this twentieth century is still, “Bring up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” They, too, need the comfort and the blessing of knowing and believing that in Jesus they have an all-powerful and all-sufficient Savior, who removes their sins (and children have sins) and who guides them through life. They need to fold their tiny hands and bend their little knees and open their baby lips to pray to Him for forgiveness and strengthening and leadership, just as all of us—you in the care-free years of youth, you in the prime of an active, productive existence, and you who have passed the proverbial threescore and ten—need the cleansing, fortifying power of His blood.
But what a terrifying guilt those parents load upon themselves who refuse to regard their offspring as a heritage that must be brought back to God! We read that Jesus was sore displeased with those who tried to keep the little children away from Him. But how withering would be His displeasure today if He were visibly with us to speak to those fathers and mothers who are utterly unconcerned about the soul life of their children! They let them stand for an hour, if necessary, in those long queues that coil around city blocks and then lead into some cinema sophistication; they send them to dancing-school; they are solicitous about their dress and appearance; but when you speak of religious training in the home or in the Sundayschool, they are both uninformed and uninterested. To them the Savior says, “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones.”
During the last twenty-four hours 7,000 children have been born in this country. Strenuous efforts are being made to give them the best advantages that any children have ever had. But will they be given the strengthening of the Christian religion? Will they be led to their God and Savior? Will they be regarded as heritages of the Lord? These are the questions which modern parents must answer before God. Remember that the right answer to these vital issues must be given in the home. If the Word of God does not reign there, if the parents are so preoccupied that there is no time for prayer, no room for the Bible, no thought of Christ, their children will very likely grow up indifferent to the claims which Jesus has upon their soul. But remember, too, that the right answer also includes the Christian education of our children outside of the home, in the Sunday-school and in the church.
To these two agencies the Church that I represent has added a third, the Christian parish-school, which gives the child his entire grammar-school education under pronouncedly Christian atmosphere and which takes the three conventional R’s and adds a fourth capital R, Religion, the happy, saving religion of Jesus Christ. Almost 80,000 of our children receive their daily instruction in over 1,300 day-schools erected and maintained by my Church. Probably there is a Christian day-school of this nation-wide system in your vicinity; it will welcome your child and regard it as a heritage of the Lord and, in leading it to Christ, prepare it not only for that intelligent Christian citizenship which our country so sorely needs, but also for the citizenship in heaven, which causes rejoicing among the angels. Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.