In this chapter, Spurgeon tackles three of the most often asked questions when it comes to children and the kingdom of God. They are:
- When Jesus says of children that the kingdom “belongs to such as these,” what does he mean?
- At what age can a child be saved?
- Do babies who die go to heaven?
That’s not a bad lineup of questions for one short chapter, so let’s get started!
1. When Jesus says of children that the kingdom “belongs to such as these,” what does he mean?
In Luke 18:16, Jesus says:
But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” [Luke 18:16]
Some argue that Jesus is speaking figuratively in these verses and is in essence saying, “in order for adults to be saved, they must have faith like a child.” He may indeed be implying that with this statement, but the clear and simple reading of the text is that there are children in the kingdom of heaven. Indeed, not only are they there, but “to such belongs the kingdom of God.” Spurgeon explains:
“There are children in all kingdoms, and there are children in Christ’s kingdom; and I am not certain that John Newton was not right when he said that the majority of persons who are now in the kingdom of God are children. When I think of all the multitudes of babes that have died, who are now swarming in the streets of heaven, it does seem to me to be a blessed thought that albeit generation after generation of adults have passed away in unbelief and rebellion, yet enormous multitudes of children have gone streaming up to heaven…They give tone and character to the kingdom; it is rather a kingdom of children than of men.”
In the following verse, Jesus explains that we gain entrance into the kingdom of heaven simply by receiving it. It is by no work of our own:
Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” [Luke 18:17]
Spurgeon further explains:
“Now, if this entrance into the kingdom depended upon something to be fetched out of the human mind by study and deep thought, then very few children could ever enter it; but it depends upon something to be received, and therefore children may enter.”
Indeed if entrance into the kingdom of heaven required human intellect or deep thought, very few children and very few adults would be qualified to enter. Rather, entering the kingdom of God is based simply on receiving the free gift of Christ’s death on the cross.
This is what our Lord means when he says that we must have faith like a child to enter into the kingdom of heaven. We must receive Christ in the same way that children do. We must receive him with humility, simple faith and an absence of worldliness. Children are humble enough not to be prejudiced against the gospel. Grown men may, for example, hear the gospel with the prejudice that Christ was just a man and not be able to rid himself of that prejudice in order to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ. A child, unhindered by that preconceived prejudice is much freer to receive the gospel of our Lord.
Spurgeon concludes these thoughts with the following statement:
“The little child receives Christ humbly, for he never dreams of merit or purchase. I do not recollect ever having met with a child who had to battle with self-righteousness in coming to Christ.”
2. At what age can a child be saved?
Many people have questioned at exactly what age a child is capable of accepting Christ. Spurgeon explains that many a child has listened to the gospel, accepted it by faith and thereby gained entrance into the kingdom of God. As to what age a child must be to accept Christ, Spurgeon offers the following simple answer:
“I will not say at what age children are first capable of receiving the knowledge of Christ, but it is much earlier than some fancy; and we have seen and known children who have given abundant evidence that they have received Christ and have believed in Him at a very early age.”
Entrance into the kingdom of heaven is not dependant on a physical age. The only requirement is an understanding of our sin and the need for a savior and a child’s ability to accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. The age at which children are mentally and spiritually mature enough to take that step will vary by child.
3.Do babies who die go to heaven?
Many people, hung up on the exclusivity of the gospel of Christ, ask whether or not children who have not accepted Jesus Christ go to heaven. On whether or not babies who die in infancy enter the kingdom of God, Spurgeon says:
“We know that infants enter the kingdom, for we are convinced that all of our race who die in infancy are included in the election of grace, and partake in the redemption wrought out by our Lord Jesus. Whatever some may think, the whole spirit and tone of the Word of God, as well as the nature of God Himself, lead us to believe that all who leave this world as babes are saved.”
As to how they are saved, Spurgeon explains:
“Salvation by blood or birth there can be none, for the gospel dispensation does not admit of it: if saved, as we assuredly believe they are, infants must be saved simply according to the will and good pleasure of God, because He hath made them to be His own.”
Some would like to argue that infants go to heaven because they are innocent and have not yet been tainted by the world. Infants do not enter heaven because of their innocence for they are born with the same sin as we all are. This is the same sin by which death entered into the world in the first place. It is not by innocence that they enter the kingdom of God but only by the grace of God.
To those who might argue that it is unjust for infants to die for a sin which they did not commit, Spurgeon argues:
“They perish, as far as this life is concerned, for a sin which they did not commit: but they also live eternally through a righteousness in which they had no hand, even the righteousness of Jesus Christ, who hath redeemed them. We know little of the matter, but we suppose them to undergo regeneration ere they enter heaven: for that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and to enter the spiritual world they must be born of the Spirit. But whatever is wrought in them, it is clear that they do not enter the kingdom by the force of intellect, or will, or merit, but as a matter of free grace, having no reference to anything that they have done or have felt.”
While, it is most certainly tragic whenever any child dies, we would do well not to question the justice of of a holy God, but to remember the unmerited grace through which he gives those tiny souls eternal life. Spurgeon concludes by pointing out that the same salvation by grace alone offered to infants is the same grace by which we were saved:
“In that same manner you must pass into the kingdom entirely through free grace, and not at all by any power or merit of your own. You will enter heaven as fully by grace as if you had never lived a godly life, nor had practised a single virtue.”
We are all saved by grace alone, and the same is true of infants.
On the question of the age of accountability (that age at which a child becomes responsible for his decision or lack of decision about following Christ), I think it is important to remember that all children are different and progress at different rates both physically and spiritually. God is not interested in a hard and fast rule that says, for example, once you turn five you must be mature enough to make a decision for Christ and if you do not you are condemned to hell. Instead, God wishes that none would perish, and he is patient with us. By extension, we must assume that he has the same patience for children. However, there is most certainly some age at with a child is capable of understanding their own sin and their need for a savior, and once they reach that age they face the same potential for eternal separation from God as adults do. As their teachers, it is our responsibility to pass this information along to them and help them to become aware of the Holy Spirit tugging at their hearts.
Links to Complete Text
If you’re interested in reading the complete text of “Come Ye Children,” it can be found on at: http://www.spurgeon.org/misc/cyc.htm
The complete text of Chapter Five can be found at: http://www.spurgeon.org/misc/cyc05.htm
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