We begin to form our attitude toward God from an early age. Two well-known figures in American history, one from the political world and the other from the religious realm, illustrate this point.
Thomas Paine was one of the leaders of the American Revolution. He was a deist. He believed in God but not in the deity of christ or the inspiration of the Bible. In The Age of Reason he recalled a sermon he heard when he was about seven or eight years old. That message was about God providing redemption for sinful man by sending His Son to die on the cross. Paine said his young mind revolted at the idea that God would do such a thing. We see the cross as a display of God’s love, but this future revolutionary thought it was cruel and unjust. He never changed his mind. He believed until the day he died that anything which “shocks the mind of a child cannot be a true system.” Now he is in eternity regretting the stubborn opinion he held from youth.
Batsell Baxter was seven when he attended a gospel meeting preached by T. B. Larimore in Texas in the late 1800s. Young Baxter heard the gospel of Christ and was baptized. This was a young age for someone to be baptized for the remission of sins. I am neither advocating baptism at this age nor condemning his baptism. My point is that he responded in his heart to the story of the cross at this early stage in his life. He grew up to be a faithful preacher, teacher, writer, Christian college administrator and the father of Batsell Barrett Baxter. He spoke out against immorality, warned about departures from Bible doctrine, and at the same time encouraged churches to continue in the faith. If there had been no other response in T. B. Larimore’s meeting (which lasted about six months) other than Batsell Baxter, his time and effort would have been more than worth it.
It is easy to forget how impressionable young hearts are. Their minds are like recorders. They remember. But they are also curious and questioning little creatures who have their opinions. Our responsibility is to love them and teach them. If we live the gospel and instill it in their hearts they will have a secure foundation for the rest of their lives. “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). This is a proverb which means it is a general statement of truth. There are exceptions just as there are with the proverb that says if you follow God’s teaching you will live a long life (Prov. 3:1-2). But parents and Bible teachers even in this wicked age should be encouraged by these words. John Trebonius, a teacher of the Protestant reformer Martin Luther, often took his hat off to young boys on the road. When someone asked him why he did this, he said it was because he never knew what great men might be passing by. Always remember, however, that all souls, including your children, belong to God (Ezek. 18:4) and their decision about Him is their own just as your choice is.