Our study of heredity has taught us that every one inherits a tendency to the evils which have been developed and confirmed in the lives of many generations of ancestors. There are also some good traits of inheritance, but these are a feeble ground of resistance to the evil tendencies, both because of their fewness, and still more because good of inheritance, until it becomes of principle, is superficial and has no strength of resistance in it. With such an inheritance the case of a child would be hopeless if the Lord did not provide some strong basis of good to offset the tendency to evil. Without such help there would be no ground to stand upon to resist the natural tendencies, and one would inevitably be carried away by them. The Lord makes the provision which is necessary in a most wonderful way, and He makes it for every one.
The Lord first provides that the natural inheritance of a child shall not be awakened immediately at his birth. It lies dormant, and the natural tendencies to evil only gradually manifest themselves as years go by, some of them not appearing till life is far advanced. We see the wisdom of this provision of the Lord, for if one came suddenly at birth into the full force of the evil tendencies of his inheritance, it would be impossible to withstand them. But delay alone is not protection enough. Even if the awakening of the evil is postponed and comes to our consciousness only gradually, we still are no better able to meet it unless in the mean time, while the natural disposition is sleeping, good gains a positive hold upon us. If in some way this can be brought about, then when the evil tendencies are allowed gradually to awaken, the child has something to compare them with, to judge of their real quality; he has some ground to stand upon to offer effective resistance.
And this help the Lord gives. He provides that in the first years of life, before the natural inheritance is aroused, holy influences shall be with every child. He accomplishes this in part by touching the hearts of parents and others in this world, to show a tenderness towards little children, which calls out their affection in return. Of this we must speak later. But this is not the only means of giving the foundation of goodness which is so necessary for after-life. This is too feeble a means and too uncertain to be trusted to alone. The strongest influences for good with every little child are influences direct from heaven and the Lord. Angels of heaven are near to every child, and they use the precious opportunities while his soul is open to them to implant impressions of innocence, of goodness and truth, on which the strength of after-years and eternal life in heaven depend. They are among the best and tenderest of the angels who are assigned to this holy duty. The Lord tells us this when He says of little children that their angels do always behold the face of the Father in heaven.
"Immediately after birth," says Swedenborg, "angels from the heaven of innocence are with little children; afterwards angels from the heaven of the tranquility of peace, and afterwards angels from the societies of charity." (AC 2303) Elsewhere the heavenly companions of children are described in other words. It is said that at first celestial angels, those characterized by the most tender love, are with little children, and later, as their state changes, spiritual angels are with them, those who impart more of the light of truth. Afterwards, when one begins to act from himself and his hereditary evils awaken, then the earlier innocent states are withdrawn by the Lord towards the interiors of the soul, and are there stored up. (AC 5342, 2280, 3183) The innocent states and impressions which are thus stored up by the Lord are often called in the Bible "the remnant" from which new life is to revive, and in our doctrines they are called " remains." To quote again a more explicit definition of " remains." "They are not only the goods and truths which a man has learned from his infancy out of the Lord's Word, and which are thus impressed on his memory; but they are likewise all states thence derived, as states of innocence from infancy, states of love towards parents, brothers, teachers, and others, states of charity towards the neighbor and also of mercy towards the poor and needy. In a word, all states of good and truth. . . . These are stored up by the Lord in the internal man whilst he is altogether ignorant thereof, . . . and there is not the smallest of them lost." (AC 561, 1906)
The use of this store of innocent states and impressions, so carefully laid away and guarded by the Lord, appears when the hereditary evil tendencies begin to awaken and to assert themselves. Heaven already has a hold upon the child. He knows something of the happiness of good and innocent states. The new attractions come into contrast with these. He has some means of judging the new states, and some ground of resistance to them. As the work of regeneration goes on, deeper and deeper stores of innocence are opened and brought to consciousness, so that as one grows in spiritual life, in a very real sense he is becoming again as a little child.
The taste of heavenly goodness and happiness which is given to every little child in infancy, and the purpose of it, are taught in the prophecy spoken directly of the Lord, but true in a degree of every one, "Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good." The value of these heavenly states as a ground of resistance to evil as it arises in the life, is taught in the words of the Psalm, "Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger."
Do we not know practically something of the value of the pure and holy things of childhood stored away within us? Are not a man's recollections of his early home, his memory of his father and mother and his love for them, among the strongest influences for good that he knows? It is not rare that the recollection of some tender scene of home, the face of one who was dear and now has gone, comes to mind in a moment of temptation, and is the means of calling a man to himself. How often some early lesson, some line of Scripture learned as a child, some tender word of counsel, returns in a critical moment and gives the help we need! And these are among the most external of the holy things stored up by the Lord. The influence of the angels who were with us in the beginning of life is more deeply laid away, hidden from distinct consciousness. Yet it is the strongest tie. We have breathed the air of heaven; we have felt its innocence and peace. It is our native land, our home, and though we may yield to the promptings of evil and come into other states; though we may wander far from the Lord and heaven, we are as exiles, as home-sick children. There are inner yearnings for our first home and our angel friends. These are the strongest ties. They give us warning as often as we go astray. Unless we wantonly destroy them, they whisper ever in our hearts of heaven, and give us no rest until we find it.
The knowledge of this store of innocent impressions which the Lord lays up in childhood as a basis of strength in later years, - as the foundation of all the happiness of heaven forever, has an important bearing upon our duty to the children. In the first place, it is a most blessed and encouraging thought that in the mercy of the Lord heaven is near to every little child, however degraded his natural surroundings. Have you not wondered to see a ragged child playing with a few sticks and a heap of earth with the same content and innocent enjoyment which another finds in costly toys? It is the angels who glorify all things to his eyes, and make the simplest possessions lovely. However hard the outward lot of children may be, however they may be neglected by natural parents, the Lord and angels do not forget them. By their ministry the basis of heaven is laid in every child; the ability is given to refuse evil and choose the good, and so to find a home in heaven.
But this does not make it unnecessary for us on the natural side to do our part for the children in these first years of life. To know what angels and the Lord are doing should exalt our idea of the importance of these first years. It should stimulate us to do our part well, that we may not hinder but help the Lord and angels in their work. There is, perhaps, no grander, truer movement, in the world to-day than the new effort to learn the nature of the child, to approach his opening faculties in sympathetic ways, and to assist their orderly and beautiful development. We can let the founders of the kindergarten and its wise workers be our teachers in many things. It is a promise of great good, that so many young women are making those principles a study, and are finding their application in the school and the home. Knowing, as we do, how near heaven is to children, and that the Lord has provided these first years of innocence as a means of laying a basis of good on which regeneration and heaven for the child must rest, we can avail ourselves of the methods of wise teachers with a still deeper purpose than their discoverers knew. In all our efforts for the children we look beyond their natural development and their preparation for usefulness in this world, to the awakening and strengthening of their spiritual life. In what we do for children we know that we are not alone, but are co-operating with the Lord and angels in storing up during years of plenty the corn which shall preserve their life in the years of famine which must follow.
Knowing the purpose of the Lord for little children, a wise mother or teacher feels every smallest contact with a child to be a precious opportunity. Care of the child is not a hardship to be got rid of as easily as possible. A mother feels that she cannot do a nobler and more useful work than to cherish this beginning of immortal life. The opportunities to cooperate with the angels begin from the very beginning. Remember the description that was quoted of the treasures of innocence that are laid up in childhood. They are not only things learned from the Holy Word, but states of innocence from infancy, states of love towards parents, brothers, teachers, and friends, states of charity towards the neighbor, and of mercy towards the poor and needy; in a word, all states of good and truth.
From the very beginning there is opportunity to encourage these states of innocence. The love in a mother's voice does something; her lullaby as she puts her child to sleep, her smile which awakens an answering smile of love. Who shall say that her own cheerful, useful, holy thoughts, as she sits by her sleeping child, or passes in and out where it is lying, have not an effect upon the opening life? As the child grows, the variety of the mother's opportunities increases. She does not yield to every wish, in the thought that if the child is gratified angels have the best opportunity to do their blessed work. In some of the child's wishes the mother sees a sign of selfishness, of greediness, of willfulness. To encourage that would be to hinder the angels in their work. So from the very first she checks these unholy things in wise, loving ways, and encourages instead states that are free from selfishness. The effort to bend the child to these most innocent states and most open to the influences of heaven cannot begin too soon. And who can see the opportunities so quickly as the wise mother? Where can the same tenderness and patience be found as in the mother's love? How carefully for the child's sake must parents and teachers avoid all anger or other unheavenly feelings in their relations with the children, which cannot fail to call out unheavenly feelings in return! They lead the awakening senses of the child to beautiful things in the world around him. They take advantage of his association with other children at home or in school to encourage a kind and generous spirit. They lead the child to find pleasure in being helpful in little ways. Every hour that the child is kept in a good and heavenly state, the hold of heaven upon him is strengthened. Does the nurse who tends the baby, does the mother herself, appreciate her opportunity?
And among the treasures which may be stored up in children's hearts we must not forget the influence of sacred things, especially the influence of the Lord's Word and His prayer. We know the peculiar charm which the Bible stories have for children when simply and reverently read to them. We are taught that the reverent reading of the Bible, and the repeating of the Lord's prayer, brings heaven near to every soul, but that this is especially true of little children. (AC 1776, 1871) We must not deprive them of this precious help. We need not wait till they can fully understand the Bible. (Will that time ever come?) Choose the simple stories that they love, and find the time before they sleep at night, or some quiet Sunday hour, when they will listen reverently. As they can, let them learn the prayer and other simple words of Scripture. Learned now, they will bean eternal possession and a source of untold strength. And in all this seek to make the reading and the learning pleasant to the children; a duty, but a pleasant duty, that the moments with the Lord's Word may be precious memories laid away among the most tender associations of family and church and home. The mother by the bedside of her child, the teacher with her class in Sunday-school, should know the value of every holy moment when the thoughts and the affections are turned to the Lord and heaven.
In many such ways which love and experience teach, those who are entrusted with the care of children on the earthly side may co-operate with the Lord and angels in laying up the store of innocence which will enable them to refuse the evil and choose the good; which will be a source of strength to them in the temptations which must come; which will give heaven an entrance to their souls, and a hold which - let us pray - will never be shaken off, but will resist all strains and bring them safely home.