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"Amillennialism 101" -- Audio and On-Line Resources
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"Children in the Hands of the Arminians" (Part Four)

Here is the fourth and final part of B. B. Warfield's "Review" of The Child as God's Child, by Rev. Charles W. Rishell, Ph.D., Professor of Historical Theology in Boston University School of Theology. New York: Eaton & Mains. Cincinnati: Jennings & Graham (1904). 

Warfield's review of Rishell's book was originally published in Vol. xvii of the Union Seminary Magazine, 1904.  Warfield entitled his review, "Children in the Hands of the Arminians."

To read the previous posts in this series, go here: Children in the Hands of the Arminians -- Part One, and  Children in the Hands of the Children --  Part Two and Children in the Hands of the Arminians -- Part Three.

Warfield concludes his review.


Warfield zeroes in upon Rishell's unsupported assertion that proper Christian training from infancy will itself be sufficient to prevent the mature Christian from falling into the "evils of an unbridled appetite."  Born saved, they just need to be taught to "stay saved."  As Warfield sees it, this is another Pelagianizing assumption made by Rishell which cannot go unchallenged.

The very ideal of the Christian life as well as of Christian training suffers in consequence. Dr. Rishell sums up his appeal at the close of his volume, in some very beautiful words. "So to train a human being from infancy to maturity," he says, "as that he will never fall into the evils of an unbridled appetite; that he will lead a clean, pure, helpful life; that he will find in the service of God and the service of his fellow-man his chief joy; that he will gladly take his place by the side of Christ in the saving of other human beings - this is worth while." It certainly would be worth while. Can it be done? That is, not indeed the question, but a very important question.

In effect, what Rishell is asking Christian parents and their churches to do is to raise up the next generation of "rich, young rulers" (cf. Matthew 19:16-30).  Perhaps, Dr. Rishell has not realized what he is seeking.  Maybe he has--only his Arminian assumptions about human ability (will worship) prevent him from connecting the dots.  Warfield connects them for him. 

The question is whether, when it is done, all is done; or, indeed, in the deepest sense of the word, anything is done. We have been told of one for whom as nearly, probably, as in the case of any one who has lived on the earth, all this was done. The note of his character was expressed in the great declaration, "All these things" - all the things commanded by the law of God - "have I obeyed from my youth up." When he saw Jesus, with the natural impulse of one so trained and so richly endowed, he wished to take his place by His side: "Good Master," he called Him, and fell on his knees at His feet. "And Jesus, looking upon him, loved him." Surely here, if anywhere, may be found Dr. Rishell's well-trained youth.

If Rishell is correct, that such a child raised to maturity will "never fall into the evils of an unbridled appetite; that he will lead a clean, pure, helpful life; that he will find in the service of God and the service of his fellow-man his chief joy; that he will gladly take his place by the side of Christ in the saving of other human beings," then Rishell is denying any necessity of the work of the Holy Spirit in applying God's saving grace to the whole of the Christian's existence--especially in regard to the matter of the creation of the faith which justifies, and which leads to sanctification.

Says Rishell, just give children the right instruction--moral instruction at that--and they'll be right beside Jesus.  This might be a comforting image for nominally Christian parents, but it is not a comfort to a parent who understands that their children were born into the same original sin and guilt as were their parents.

Warfield takes up the blindness of the rich young ruler to what should have been obvious.  If the truth were told, the young ruler had not kept the commandments even for one moment (cf. James 2:10), let alone obeyed sufficiently over the course of his life!  Warfield makes this point, and then pounces,

Was there nothing lacking in his case? According to the judgment of our Lord, everything was lacking. Seeing him, and seeing his lack, seeing how difficult it was for him to perceive what he lacked and how impossible for him to supply it, our Lord was moved to deliver His great discourse on the human impossibility of salvation. And by this example we may see that Dr. Rishell's program of training for youth lacks everything to this point.

Because Rishell overlooks this embarrassing, but truly significant biblical point, he misses  what Christian children actually need--the law and the gospel in their proper relationship as set forth, for example, in the Heidelberg Catechism under the headings of guilt, grace, gratitude (Q & A  1 and 2).  Without the gospel--because, as Rishell assumes, children come into the world already saved until they "unsave themselves"--Christian children will never know the joy of being delivered from that sin into which they were born, despite Rishell's assumption to the contrary. 

By this time, Warfield's frustration is papable.

What is lacking in it is the whole evangelical note. There is lacking all sense of the joy of redemption from sin. What will Dr. Rishell make of the great declaration, "Verily I say unto you, there is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth than over ninety and nine just persons who need no repentance?" Where in his whole scheme is there place for the joy of believing? Where for the fervour of love? Where for the inextinguishable bliss of redemption? Worth while so to train a child that he will "never fall into the evils of unbridled appetite"? Worth while to teach a child to live a clean life? Worth while to train a child to zeal in religious and humanitarian activity? Of course it is worth while. But there are some things that are much more worth while than these, great things as these are.

Christian ethics are surely important.  But the moral life is not properly the "Christian life."  The Christian life is a war waged upon personal and indwelling sin in which the Holy Spirit bears his fruit (Galatians 5:16-25).  Children need to understand this inward struggle, and become confident of God's methods and aid in dealing with it.  It is God who breaks the power of sin and molds his people into the image of Christ.  This requires much more than training already saved children in the basics of Christian ethics.  This requires a Christ-centered gospel anchored in the grace and mercy of the Savior who loves sinners (including and perhaps especially children).

It is much more worth while to train a child to recognize the sinfulness of his heart and the amazing deceit and subtlety of its sinful movements. It is much more worth while to teach him to contemplate with ceaseless wonder the unspeakable love of God in the gift of his only begotten Son as a sacrifice for the sin of the world. It is much more worth while to lead him to this Savior's feet in humble trust in His blood and righteousness. It is much more worth while to implant within his soul a longing for the gift of the Spirit by whom, being born anew, he is led onward in the holy walk with God his Savior. Oh, certainly it is worth while to teach a child that he ought to be good; and to train him in good thoughts and good words and good deeds. But it is infinitely better worth while to teach him how he can become good.

To do this, Christian parents need a gospel which can deal with human sinfulness.  A rosy and hopelessly naive notion that are children are born "safe" if not "already saved" misses the mark.  What children need is Jesus--the Savior of sinners.

And no more now than at any other period of the world's life is there any other dynamic for goodness than just Jesus Christ. Now, too, as ever the great principle holds good, "Not out of works, but unto good works which God has afore-prepared that we should walk in them." "The frozen reason's colder part" - there may be some mild pleasure in that, surely; but "the joy of salvation" - nothing can take the place of that in any heart, young or old. Of course, if children do not need saving, there can be no need of bringing them to Jesus; or of teaching them to trust humbly in Jesus. Jesus in that case is not "Jesus" to them: for "they called His name Jesus because He should save His people from their sins." Only, we wonder then, why He took the little children in His arms and said, "Of such is the kingdom of heaven." And, then, these little children grow up; and did any one ever see one who had grown up and had no need of Jesus - not as one to whose side he might come to help Him save the world, but as One to whose feet he might flee to receive from Him the salvation of the soul?

When all has been said, Warfield can only lament the real impact of Rishell's program if ever implemented.  Yes, children will learn good things if Rishell's plan were implemented.  But they will learn the essential thing--they are sinners who need a Savior?  Sadly, not likely.

It is a sad thing if there are any Christian parents anywhere who fail in their duty to give their children a full and rich religious training; we have to learn religion as we have to learn anything else It would be an infinitely sadder thing if any Christian parents anywhere should teach their children that they do not need salvation, and do not need to seek it diligently, and when they have found it to sell all that they have and purchase it.

The Children in the Hands of the Arminians
by Rev. B. B. WARFIELD

Professor in the Theological Seminary at Princeton

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