“When I was a child I spoke as a child I understood as a child I thought as a child; but when I became a man I put away childish things.” I Cor. xiii. 11.
In childhood the mind, pleased with every trifle and void of care, vacantly pursues its little pleasures, and, blessed with ignorance of the ills and disappointments of life, looks forward with sanguine hopes to fairy scenes of happiness; while the bright and tearless eye, resting on the outside of things, sees a paradise in every lawn and grove. A recollection of these childish delights is often cherished with rapture in future years, while the man, forgetful of the frettings and whining of childhood, indulgently inquires, Why were the former days better than these? But he does not ask wisely concerning this. A virtuous manhood is much more to be desired than the state of children. It is capable of far nobler pursuits, of knowledge, enjoyment, and action more congenial with the ends of our being. The child has no high and manly aim, no cares for great and dignified things, little thought for his future well being either in this life or the life to come. His understanding is feeble, his knowledge is small, his pursuits and pleasures are useless to the world, his years are trifled away in pursuing airy visions, and he is a stranger to elevated and substantial happiness. He speaks as a child, prattling unconnectedly of his little concerns; he understands as a child, superficially and contractedly; he thinks as a child, incorrectly and inconsistently; but when he becomes a man he puts away childish things. His taste relishes nobler objects; his conversation is more dignified; his conduct and pursuits are manly; his views and knowledge are enlarged. Spurning the shackles and toys of babyhood, he becomes perhaps a philosopher, and explores with astonished gaze the works of his Creator. His unrestricted fancy, not confined to the policies and interests of kingdoms, wanders among the stars, and delights itself with the numberless worlds which revolve above his head, while his faith and knowledge are employed on the great affairs of the kingdom of God.
Such is the contrast by which the apostle represents the present and future existence of Christians. He was speaking of their imperfect knowledge and attainments in this life and the perfection of their state in the life to come; which he illustrates by the words of our text: “When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man I put away childish things;” to which he adds, “For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
If the most eminent saints, while here, are in a state of childhood, how much more the rest of mankind? It is then the obvious doctrine of the text that the present life is only the infant state of man. In illustrating this position I shall show its truth,
I. In regard to mankind in general;
II. In regard to worldly men in particular;
III. In regard even to Christians themselves.
I. The position is true in regard to mankind in general. Man is a more noble being than he appears in this world, and was designed for nobler ends than he attains, or than his Maker accomplishes by him, in the present state. The all wise God would not have formed so dignified a race, and placed them in a world fitted up with such exquisite art, for no other end than that they should enjoy the little transitory distinctions and pleasures of this life,-that they should sustain such a mode of existence and intercourse for a few years, in sin and misery, and then drop into nothing, without either gratifying his benevolence in making them happy, or exercising his justice in punishing their sins. If he expended so much labor in creating them and the world they live in that they might be happy, this end is miserably defeated if there be no future state. If he created them for his own glory, their present existence, unconnected with a future state, illustrates neither his wisdom, goodness, nor justice, but casts obscurity over them all. Men do not here receive the punishment due to their sins, nor arrive at the perfection either of their powers or of the happiness which they are capable of enjoying. Dismal are the prospects of that man who looks forward to no future state; who after sinning and sighing a few times more, expects to be swallowed up in the gulf of annihilation. For other purposes had Infinite Wisdom in creating an intelligent race. The Author of their being, who designed them for immortality, placed them in this infant state, not for the good they could enjoy here, but to ripen for a glorious and eternal manhood. Their greatest growth here, compared with their future dimensions, does not transcend the size of children.- This life, instead of being the termination, is only the threshold of their existence. This world is only their nursery, or if you please, the cradle in which souls yet in swaddling bands are rocked for immortality. Could you see them launched into eternity, -could you trace their dimensions a few centuries hence,-you would behold these puny beings swelled to a stature which your present powers could not measure. How miserably do they overlook the dignity of man who contemplate him only in the present life. What wretched miscalculation to consume all their cares in making provisions for this infant state,-this mere birth of being,-this embryo of existence,-and neglect to provide for the happiness of a vigorous and eternal manhood.
II. It is particularly true of worldly men that this is their childish state. Their views, their tastes, their knowledge, their pleasures, their pursuits, all bespeak them children. Compared with the high and noble ends for which they were made, what trifles they are pleased with, what childish objects they pursue. While I stand contemplating the dimensions and dignity of a glorified saint, I pronounce the wealth of the wealthiest king and the honors of the greatest emperor to be mere play-things for children, and all the strife and hurry and noise of the world to be but the unmeaning motions and sounds of an infant. Are they not children? Mark with what vacancy of mind they pursue their little pleasures, without any dignified and manly aim,-what want of foresight and care for their future well-being,-how caught with the outside of things and puffed with airy hopes,-how dark their understandings,-how small their knowledge of what they were created to know,-how useless their lives. They have none of that sublime happiness of which rational minds are capable. Subject to disappointments and sorrows, the children often fret and cry. They speak as a child, they understand as a child, they think as a child. Ah when will they become men and put away childish things? Cast aside your toys and raise your thoughts to objects worthy of men, -to the kingdom and glory of God,-to infinite interests and immortal concerns. To pursue objects for which men were sent into the world, to employ the mind on subjects most noble within the reach of its present powers, is certainly to lay the best claims to the honor of manhood. Many who pride themselves on being men of honor, deem it manly to neglect religion, and account it weak and womanish to yield to the tendernesses and softnesses of piety. But they turn the tables. With powers capable of manly aims but devoted to childish play, they appear to angels as one would appear to us who at the age of fifty should busy himself in making houses in the sand. If they will not ascend to high and manly objects, it would have been better for them always to have remained children. A child is satisfied with his baubles: but they, possessed of capacities which nothing but God can fill,-which were made to be employed about the kingdom of Christ,-remain restless and uneasy with all their toys about them. If I were always to live on earth, and must be confined to its trifling objects, I solemnly declare that I would rather eternally remain a child.
III. It is true even of Christians themselves, and of the most eminent of them all, that they are only children in the present life. This is precisely the sentiment contained in the text. They speak as a child, they think as a child, and they understand as a child. They speak of divine things as a child, using expressions which no more reach the extent of the subject, than the prattling of children about the moon conveys a full idea of that luminary. They have no other language for these subjects than that of Scripture, which, being adapted to the weakness of our apprehensions, is little more than an association of images borrowed from sensible objects. In this highly figurative language, which is necessarily imperfect because our imperfect minds could understand no other, they speak of God’s eyes and hands and feet,-of his repenting, -of his coming down to see what is taking place on earth,-of his fury’s coming up in his face. They speak of the worship of heaven in language principally taken from the temple worship of the Jews. But when they arrive at manhood, they will use a language expressive of things as they are,- a language no longer darkened with the shadow of figures, but taken from the very light of the subjects themselves, and as luminous as truth. No childish topics will then employ their tongues. They will converse only on noble subjects with noble personages.
They will think as men. Here their conceptions are extremely crude. They conceive of God as having the figure and features of a man,-as existing in a particular place,-as growing older as ages revolve. They conceive of the intercourse of spirits as being similar to that of incarnate beings. All their conceptions of heavenly things are largely mingled with ideas borrowed from sensible objects. But when they arrive at manhood, their conceptions will be correct. They will never indeed cease to be conversant with material objects. After the resurrection they will still possess material bodies. There will be a local heaven for the accommodation of those bodies. The glorified body of Christ will be the centre of this heaven, and the point to which their finite thoughts and worship will be more particularly directed. But though limited by the finitude of their nature, their conceptions will be far more matured and perfect.
They will understand as men. In this life their understandings are feeble and contracted,-are darkened by ignorance,-are perverted by prejudice,-are liable to errors and misconstructions of the word of God. Christians here cannot agree on the plainest doctrines of divine revelation, and are split into contending sects. But in heaven their knowledge will be perfect, their prejudices and mistakes will cease, and party distinctions will be known no more. They will all see eye to eye, and be united in the most sublime and delightful views of divine truth. Here they are limited to a very imperfect knowledge of God’s will, and are often pressed with doubts respecting their duty; but there all duty will be made plain. Here their views are confined to a small circle; there they will take in the universe. Here, with all the helps they enjoy, they know but little of God; there they will see as they are seen and know as they are known. If the little knowledge of God which they here possess fills them with so much delight, who can conceive the ecstasy which will arise from the clear discovery, the enlarged views, the vast knowledge of him which they will then enjoy;-beholding the face of that glorious sun without an interposing cloud,-stretching their eyes far and wide into the substance of his uncreated light,-with visual organs undazzled by his splendor,-with souls set on fire by the blaze of his glory. In this life their minds can take in but little of the wonders of redemption, and small is their acquaintance with him who purchased them with his blood; but in heaven they will behold the Lamb in the midst of his Father’s throne; their delighted eyes will wander over his glories; they will approach him and lay their crowns at his feet; they will be united to him in the tenderest communion; they will have a much clearer view of the unfathomable wonders of redemption, and with amazement and transport will trace the heights and depths of this stupendous plan.
No longer limited to the hopes and anticipations of childhood, they will have arrived at the full attainment of their supreme good. No longer confined to the company of children, they will enjoy the society of the glorious army of patriarchs, prophets, apostles and martyrs. They will be united in the strictest friendship with seraphim and cherubim, and be ennobled by intercourse with these highest orders of angels. No longer limited to the low pursuits of this infant state, all their faculties will be employed in the most noble parts of the divine service. Their understanding will be occupied in searching into the character and works of God; their affections will be exercised in ardent love and gratitude; their voices will be strung to elevated praise; their wills will be exerted in choosing God and his ways; their memory will be employed in looking back to this life and collecting materials with which to erect everlasting monuments to his glory. All their powers, which were imperfect in this state of minority, will have attained their perfection: not that perfection which will exclude progress, but that which indicates a state of manhood. How vastly their powers will be enlarged, cannot now be told. Was Newton a child? Was Solomon a child? What then is a man? Could we approach the glorified spirit of the meanest saint that ever left these abodes of weakness and sin, we should be amazed at the magnitude of his powers. Perhaps we might see him-to be greater than a nation combined. And these astonishing dimensions are probably but the beginning of his growth. I stand amazed as I trace that spirit through the ascending degrees of its eternal progression. I am lost in wonder and delight as I pursue its august destinies through immortal ages, and see it stretching towards God, widening, extending, rising,- until a spirit with the present ken of Gabriel could scarcely discern it in its glorious altitude,-until a spirit with the present dimensions of Gabriel would only be as an infant to a giant doubled a thousand times;-and still it is stretching away. From the summit of that elevation suppose it to look down upon this mortal life; how contemptible, how much like the toys of childhood would all its little glories appear. While it reviews its former attachment to earth and dust, its former childish pursuits, yea its most fervent devotions, I hear it sing, “high in salvation and the realms of bliss,” “When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man I put away childish things.”
O my brethren, destined for Immortality, raise your minds from earth and fix them on the heaven of heavens. As you march towards the New Jerusalem, let your eye be filled with the approaching glories of the place. Keep your thoughts above, where you are to spend a never ending eternity. Often contemplate the amazing destinies before you. Why those sighs and tears and low contracted griefs? Is it for the children of a king to be sad? You have reason to rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory. I wonder you are not constantly transported. Consider what you will be a century hence. Consider what you will be a million ages hence. I am rapt as I follow you through the ascending glories of eternity. And are you born to this? to dignity so august? to glories so unbounded? O debase not yourselves by sordid actions. Stoop not to grovelling pursuits. Remember what you are and respect yourselves. Do nothing that you will disapprove when you review your life from the high abodes of salvation. Awaken every sleeping faculty and press towards the glorious mark. You are acting for eternity, and immortality is the prize. Drive on your lagging powers; quicken your tardy progress; “till you all come, in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Amen.