Thoughts Taken from Archibald Alexander’s “Thoughts on Religious Experience” 1844
When we speak of Christ and the gospel to children, we get clear evidence of man’s original sin when we see some who react so negatively to the message.
Even when I was a high school Bible teacher, I saw physical evidence of real animosity to the things of God. I can vividly remember the complaint by some in the student body angry about the process of “shoving it down our throats”.
This is echoed back to 1844 when Archibald Alexander lamented, “From this cause it proceeds, that many children who have the opportunity of a good pious education learn scarcely anything of the most important truths of Christianity. If they are compelled to commit the catechism to memory, they are accustomed to do this without ever thinking of the doctrines contained in the words which they recite; so that, when the attention is at any time awakened to the subject of religion as a personal concern, they feel themselves to be completely ignorant of the system of divine truth taught in the Bible.”
Dr. Alexander goes on, however, to make a most important point. He said that these truths that seem to be a source of great contention, are hidden treasures that actually have wonderful benefits.
He says it this way: “Of two people under conviction of sin, one of whom has had sound religious instruction and the other none, the former will have an unspeakable advantage over the latter in many respects.”
No doubt that some children of Christian parents experience God’s love in a variety of ways. They may be awakened early to stories of Christ and His sacrifice or God and His mercy. But these early experiences do not always manifest themselves in immediate conversion.
It is hard to know sometimes, if a child is truly converted. The Puritans were very careful in their use of the term. To them, “faith that fizzles was faulty from the first”. They instructed their children in the catechisms, but took no hope in externals and misleading ‘juvenile exercises’.
We must never take lightly the enemies of our souls: the world, the flesh, and the devil. Could it be that the great deceiver would use childhood practice with piety as a veil for true conversion? What if the appearance of salvation prevented true confessions of no faith as the child finally becomes aware of his sin?
Dr. Alexander was not fearful of this line of reasoning. He clearly states:
“While I would not deny that Satan may take advantage of these transient exercises to induce a false hope, I cannot be persuaded that he produces these impressions; for often the people, before experiencing them, were as careless and stupid as he could wish them to be, and because the tendency of these impressions is beneficial. The youth thus affected becomes more tender in conscience, forsakes known sin before indulged, has recourse to prayer, and feels strong desires after eternal happiness. These are not what Satan would effect, if he could, unless we could suppose that he was operating against himself, which our Savior has taught us to be impossible.”
If we understand the work of God’s spirit in a less than immediate or linear experience, we are more able to see that even these transient times of experiencing God are beneficial to conversion- even if it is many years down the road.
I love Dr. Alexander’s point here:
“So, when a revival occurs under the awakening discourses of some evangelist, people are ready to think that he only is the successful preacher whose labors God owns and blesses; whereas he does but bring forward to maturity, feelings and convictions which have been long secretly forming and growing within the soul—but so imperceptibly that the person himself was little sensible of any change.”
And what of those who do not receive adequate religious instruction or have these early impressions? No doubt they can be converted, but the soil is much less ready for the good seed of the word.
So I continue to say to parents and Bible teachers of the young- preach on! You don’t think you are making an impact, but you are! You never know what conditioning is taking place in the depths of the heart.
This doesn’t mean that we not try to find creative, encouraging, positive, and loving attempts to share the good news. But every prayer and every attempt may be producing fruit that we know nothing of, until we see it in eternity!
God bless those who labor among the young!