March 3, 2007

Children and Preaching (2)

I believe that children - even young children - should benefit from bible centred preaching.

We've already seen something of what the bible has to say about it... what does history say?

The Testimony of Church History

The clear testimony of church history is that children are expected to benefit from preaching in the same way as adults. Not always to the same level of understanding perhaps, but in the same essential manner.

Calvin and his contemporaries, the whole Puritan period, and the Great Awakening in England and America clearly testify to that. Not only did they expect children to benefit, but they plainly did benefit!

Jim Packer reminds us of Puritan times (bold text mine):

“It was the husband’s responsibility to channel the family into religion; to take them to church on the Lord’s Day, and oversee the sanctifying of that entire day in the home; to catechise the children, and teach them in the faith; to examine the whole family after each sermon, to see how much had been retained and understood, and to fill in any gaps in understanding that might remain; to lead the family in worship daily, ideally twice a day; and to set an example of sober godliness at all times and in all manners”.

Among God’s Giants: J I Packer - Marriage and Family in Puritan Thought p355 (Kingsway Books)

What a great example! Perhaps our families would be richer and our churches healthier if more parents did the same!

Iain Murray relates something of the situation with Jonathan Edwards in 1741:

“We had the most wonderful work among children that ever was in Northampton… Many, of all ages, partook of it; but yet, in this respect, it was more general on those that were of the younger sort”.

Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography : Iain Murray p165 (Banner of Truth)

In the same chapter, Murray goes on to speak of one occasion when, after the preaching of God’s Word, Edwards gathered those under the age of 17 and gave them ‘some counsels proper for their age’. Valuable, age appropriate meetings – subsequent to, and building upon the preaching of the Word of God.

Many scenes in the Great Awakening reinforce that same power of God reaching children in preaching.

Concerning a single sermon preached by George Whitefield in Scotland (1742), one present reported:

"During the time of divine worship, solemn, profound reverence overspread every countenance. Many cry out in the bitterness of their soul. Some...from the stoutest men, to the most tender child, shake and tremble and a few fall down as dead....when the ...preacher speaks of redeeming Love, and talks of the precious Saviour...all seem to breathe after Him...."

Even a brief scan of some of the biographical works on my bookshelves are full of stories of God’s dealings with children under preaching.

Henry Rees was a preacher greatly blessed of God during the 19th century in Liverpool. Born in Wales in 1798, he grew to be a man of real spiritual stature – yet it was as a young child that God dealt with him under preaching.

“It is very probable… that the heart of Henry Rees was often melted by the pathetic strains of the eminent John Evans. We find that he heard Mr Evans at Llansanan, when about seven years old”.

Great Preachers of Wales: Owen Jones p 334

The biographer goes on to quote Henry Rees speaking in later years:

“I was very fond of preachers and preaching ever since I remember. I cannot say when these things first occupied my mind. I recollect once, when I was a boy, paying special attention to certain things in a sermon; after going home, I quietly retired into a silent spot, in order to preach those things over again to myself”… So great was his enjoyment of the sermons in his youth that he would sometimes forget himself, and give outward expression to his feelings”.

Ibid. p335

Robert Roberts, Clynnog, was a minister during the 18th century, this time in Wales. Outwardly he had little to commend him – curvature of the spine, ‘a small and dwarfish appearance’, and of ‘unremarkable bearing’. His preaching however, stirred many people. The following quotation concerns one of his hearers:

“Michael Roberts… says he was 6 or 7 when Robert Roberts commenced preaching, still he remembered his coming to Llanllyfni about the first time… he tells us how the preaching of his uncle affected himself, how it roused him and stirred every passion within him. When he was about 10 or 12 he followed him on his Sunday journeys, whatever the weather might be, and the pleasure he enjoyed was intense”.


Take the remarkable work of God done amongst children in Ireland in 1859 under the ministry of James Bain in the village of Straid. History tells us that significant numbers of children between the ages of 8 and 12 not only were converted soundly and plainly during preaching, but they went on to grow in faith and be built in understanding.

Again, a brief scan of the same bookshelves brings reassurance that preaching can even be of value to those who are limited in intellectual development, or with severe learning difficulties.

Take the story of Mary Macrae, recorded in ‘The Days of the Fathers in Ross-shire’:

“Mary Macrae lived in Lochbroom till she was more than 50 years of age. She was regarded by all of her acquaintances as a witless creature that could not be trusted, as she herself used afterwards to say, “even with the washing of a pot”. The little intellect she had was in a state of utter torpor; nothing moved it into activity. Any attempt to educate her was regarded as quite hopeless. Her life was, indeed, a cheerless waste during her ‘years of ignorance’.

Regarded as a simpleton by her neighbours, and as a burden by her relatives, she was a stranger even to the happiness human kindness gives; and no light or joy from heaven had yet reached her alienated soul. On a Saturday, as she sat by the fire in her bothy in Lochbroom, the idea of going to Killearnan came into her mind… She at last reached the old church of Killearnan as the people were assembling on the Sabbath morning. Following the people, she entered the church. During the sermon the voice of the Son of God was heard by Mary’s quickened soul. She saw his beauty as no child of darkness ever saw it, and with her heart she said, before she left the church that day, “I am the Lord’s”’.

‘The Days of the Fathers in Ross-shire’: John Kennedy D.D pp 46 (Christian Focus Publications)

She had no natural intellectual gifts, and was perhaps no more educationally advanced than a young child – yet God dealt with her under preaching.

Aside from these clear historical testimonies, there are many contemporary examples of God dealing with boys, girls, and disabled adults – through all-age congregational preaching!

Our own family situation is indicative of that – whatever other helpful influences exist for them in developing spiritual life and character, and I would include in that the valuable work of Sunday School both now and in the past, it is under preaching that the greatest stirrings and awakenings have taken place; it is under preaching that God has generated concern for the soul, questions of a serious nature regarding their state before God, and profound conversations carried on in its aftermath. Such testimonies are hardly unusual – it is my privilege to know many families whose experiences are identical.

Why? Because God is not restricted, and because preaching is unlike any other form of information exchange. The gospel of God is the ‘power of God to salvation’! Preaching isn’t a lecture, it isn’t a class dialogue, it isn’t even a small group discussion – the spiritual dynamic of the authority and power of preaching is something unpredictable in character. In preaching, God comes down. There is something mystical about preaching that our modern age underplays; preaching is an ‘event’, an ‘encounter’, an interaction!

Perhaps our lack of confidence in God dealing with our young children in preaching has something to do with how we understand the nature of preaching.


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Posted by Danny at March 3, 2007 1:12 PM | TrackBack

Thanks for the feedback Yvonne. Good to see you here again.

Nice to hear you encouraging people to visit these pages :). Don't forget to share graciously though! I am sure you will.

There are probably three more posts on this subject to come, so it needs all to be read in context as well.

Posted by: Danny at March 3, 2007 11:19 PM

I can say a hearty "Amen" to what you have so ably written here. I am in a church where this is not practised. The children usually go out after 'children's talk' to their classes. When my girl of 7 yrs comes to me after church has finished I look at what she has been doing and ask her what she has been learning about Jesus. Not too many parents do this, and I am so saddened. My little girl loves to read her bible (it's the most important book in the world mum!) she tells me. I am teaching her at home and trusting in God's good grace. I became a christian 15 yrs ago, but never taught our young children who were then aged 3 and 5 yrs the bible. In my ignorance I 'assumed' that that was the job of my church. No-one ever told me otherwise :( and the message is still not preached. I have actually learnt to do these things as a parent, of off christian internet sites would you believe! It's just not taught in my church! No wonder the church is in the state it's in..with our young people leaving as soon as they grow up. I applaud and thank the Lord for your article. I shall be sharing it.

Posted by: yvonne at March 3, 2007 10:39 PM
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