They are not innocent in God's sight, but are young vipers!
(Jonathan Edwards, "Thoughts on the Revival of Religion in New England" 1742)
"Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath." Ephesians 2:3
What has given offense to many and raised a loud cry against some preachers, as though their conduct was intolerable — is their frightening of poor, innocent children with talk of Hell-fire and eternal damnation.
But if those who complain so loudly of this, really believe that all are by nature the children of wrath and heirs of Hell — and that everyone who has not been born again, whether he is young or old — is exposed every moment to eternal destruction, and under the wrath of Almighty God — I say, if they really believe this, then such a complaint betrays a great deal of weakness and inconsideration.
As innocent as children seem to be to us, yet if they are out of Christ — then they are not innocent in God's sight, but are young vipers! They are infinitely more hateful than vipers — and are in a most miserable condition, as well as grown persons.
Why should we conceal the truth from them? Will those children who have been dealt tenderly with in this respect, and lived and died insensible of their misery until they come to feel it in Hell — ever thank parents and others for their tenderness in not letting them know what they were in danger of?
If parents' love toward their children was not blind — then it would affect them much more to see their children every day exposed to eternal burnings!
A child who has a dangerous wound may need the painful lance, as well as grown persons. That would be a foolish pity in such a case, which would hold back the lance — and throw away the child's life.
That little children have committed no positive acts of vice — is no argument that they have not a corrupt nature within them. A young viper has a malignant nature — though incapable of doing a malignant action, and at present appearing to be a harmless creature.
I have seen the happy effects of dealing plainly and thoroughly with children in the concerns of their souls, without sparing them at all; and never knew any ill consequence of it, in any one instance.