Posted by: rcottrill | August 28, 2013

Can a Little Child Like Me?

Words: Attributed to Mary Mapes Dodge (b. Jan. 26, 1831; d. Aug. 21, 1905)
Music: Thanksgiving (or Basswood), by William K. Basswood (b. _____, 1839; d. _____, 1902)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: This hymn was published in 1877. Basswood was a organ and piano teacher, and a composer, but little more is known of him.

This is a wonderful children’s hymn. It asks a simple question, and then proceeds to offer many possible answers to it. Answers that, even more than a century later, are still relevant.

Can a little child offer suitable praise and thanks to God? Yes, of course. The Lord Jesus said, “Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You [Father] have perfected praise” (Matt. 21:16. And what is the circumstance that fulfilled this prophecy from Psalm 8:2? It is the children crying in the temple precincts at the time of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, “Hosanna [save, I pray] to the Son of David” (vs. 15).

(With regard to the wording of Psalm 8:2, Christ followed the Septuagint reading that has “praise” rather than “strength” (NKJV). The NIV uses this reading of the verse in Psalms as well. The two are certainly connected. Bullinger suggests that the word “strength” makes use of a figure of speech called metonymy, as the cause (strength) is put for the effect (praise).

The Bible exhorts us, “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thess. 5:18). And “let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” (Heb. 13:15; cf. Eph. 5:20; Col. 3:17). That will be a major occupation of heaven too. “Then a voice came from the throne, saying, ‘Praise our God, all you His servants and those who fear Him, both small and great!’” (Rev. 19:5).

How worthwhile, then, to teach children, as soon as they can begin to comprehend it, that they should praise and thank God for blessings enjoyed. It’s part of the injunction to, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).

Mary Dodge gives us an instrument by which a life of praise and thankfulness can be taught. Young children should learn and sing this beautiful hymn, with each of the particulars explained to them. There are about thirty things in these simple words that could be discussed. (Most of them apply to us as adults, as well.)

Stanza 1. One of the chief ways an individual can glorify God is by being the kind of person the Lord intends him or her to be. By being good (obeying God’s Word), and true (truthful, honest), faithful (dependable, loyal), and kind to others. In a way, this helps to fulfil Christ’s exhortation to “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

This is followed in the hymn by loving the Lord, and doing your part. The latter either relates to doing one’s part to praise God, or perhaps to fulfilling duties assigned by parents and teachers. Finally, the “little child,” and all of us, should “learn to say with all [our] hearts, Father, we thank Thee.” The need is for sincere and heartfelt praise, not just going through the motion, not just praise from the teeth outward.

CH-1) Can a little child like me
Thank the Father fittingly?
Yes, oh yes! be good and true,
Faithful, kind, in all you do;
Love the Lord, and do your part;
Learn to say with all your heart,

Father, we thank Thee,
Father, we thank Thee,
Father in heaven, we thank Thee.

Stanza 2. Next come more concrete things that should awaken our thanksgiving: fresh fruit to eat, the birds with their cheering songs, the beauty of nature all around. A thankful person will be an observant person, seeing God’s hand at work, and His bounty everywhere, as well as His loving care. A child should also be thankful for a father and mother who loves him or her, and for other family members. (Need it be added that parents should be God-honouring and worthy of that love–cf. Eph. 6:4?)

Stanza 3. Thank the Lord for “sunshine warm and bright,” and for His creation of Day and Night (Gen. 1:3-5), each of which has its purpose (Ps. 104:19-23). Praise can be offered as well for “the lessons of our youth” (the result of “train up a child in the way he should go”). The author lists especially learning the importance of “honour, gratitude, and truth.” Honour perhaps has to do with showing respect for others, not only those who have authority over us, but demonstrating a kind regard for all. “Render therefore to all their due…honour to whom honour (Rom. 13:7; cf. 12:10). And finally there is praise for those who love us, and for a cheerful home life.

Stanza 4. Children can readily, I would think, thank the Lord for their friends, their times of play, and their holidays from school. But there should also be a sense of worth and pleasure in “the joyful work and true that a little child might do.” Children do not yet have a sense of what a lifetime is, but they can praise the Lord for a good beginning. And finally, for “the great gift of [God’s] Son who came to be our Saviour (II Cor. 9:15). If I’d written the hymn, I might have begun with this. But it works here too as the capstone and climax of all.

1) What other things might you add to the list of things a child should thank and praise God for?

2) Can you see ways this hymn could be used in the home (perhaps family devotions), and in your church?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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