William Bradford Institute
for Study of the
Early Settlement of America

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When I was a Child I Thought as a Child


by Edward D. Griffin


"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.





 

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