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THE COURTEOUS CHILD AND THE PLIGHT
AND THE JOY OF THE ANGELS
Yesterday, I met a child with manners. Three times he asked me if I was waiting (I did not understand him at first), with a keen and concerned look of enquiry. This he did before asking the shopkeeper for what he wanted.
The incident was slight, but not its significance.
The angelic-seeming gentleness that children more often could express; the meekness and self-control, the earnestness and seeking for good, are not entirely a thing of the past. Manners are on the outside, but they do not always start from there: there is the spirit of a child which one can remember not by any means as universal, but yet as not at all uncommon. We recall the words of Jesus Christ (Matthew 18:10). They abundantly deserve reflection.
Now it seems to be increasingly hidden, this quality, assailed, shrunken or seized, mistaught, misled with ruinous indulgence or else disregarded. Children are indeed actively taught, both by example, by hideous TV episodes, and by viciousness and squalor (for that medium seems to specialise on what is warped), as by abhorrent library books (challenged from time to time by concerned parents), by the mockery of the magic of organic evolution, and by direct and indirect incitation to assert themselves, their rights, their personalities, to look after No. 1, to get, gain and grab! so that the squalor can dangerously infect them.
Instead of being delivered by righteous words, examples, Sunday School presentations of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, in terms of the word of God, more and more children are becoming engineered into squalid ways, talk and walk: as if the whole object were to produce get-engines, gratification-motors, fulfilment-grabbers. Such a nation, unless there be a simply prodigious mercy showered again from God, can look forward to a history soon to be evident, very different from the one we have enjoyed.
Yet, thank the Lord, there are still some children left who are not in the way of becoming demoralised mini-adults, children who can love God, love life, love Christ and walk honestly in the light. We who are Christians have an enormous opportunity to discover more and bring them to the Lord - children who, if not ready now to grow in grace, then at least may come to find in Christ peace and a beauty that the world needs to see, even if in small faces, and on little feet.
Is it not therefore all the more occasion for joy that these little ones, capable of such NATURAL graces, when not distorted, confused and misled, when looking to the light which should follow them, are an ensign and indication for us who are older, of the grace and humility which should adorn our ways: not as though we should in understanding be children, but rather be men, be women, be mature; but in grace act always as in the presence of OUR Father, as obedient, faithful, responsible children, capable, like real children throughout history, of enduring and loving, of strength when required, but not as if, of our own selves!
There, it is a cause for joy that we have such little examples, however readily corrupted and nowadays however deplorably helped in their vulnerabilities by vultures (cf. Matthew 18:6-9). It is cause for still more joy that Christ the Lord so valued this feature and so focussed it (Matthew 18:1-5), and so emphasised His love of the meek and the truly seeking, however brave they must be (Luke 18:15ff., Matthew 19:13ff., I Peter 1:14-25, 2:20ff.). Little things matter, in spirit they have a control and calibre, a quality.
It is the totalitarian
task-masters who seek to make manipulable mathematical units out of men,
and out of mathematics, inanimate contrivances for the better self-aggrandisement
of folly. In God, however, let us be joyful: grandeur is not arrogant (cf.
Zechariah 4:10, I Peter 3:8-12). Statistics is not sovereign. People are
in His own image. This is one ‘type’ to which it is very wise to revert
(Colossians 3:10, Ephesians 4:24), a miracle which by His grace is through
the door provided (John 10:9,27-28): the type which comes from the type-face
of the creative hand of God, who, having made us in His own image, does
not despise little ones or little things (cf. Mark 12:42-44, Matthew 5:19ff.,
Mark 9:35, Luke 13:30, Matthew 18:10); for He knows the significance of
things. Indeed, says He, "Take heed that you do not
despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels
do always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven." And
notice the tenderness with which He proceeds in Matthew 18:11, to the lost,
like wayward children, and seals it with 18:14, to which we must adduce