Under the old covenant, children were externally subject to the church law of God. For those children who had not first been won by the gospel, the church law of God functioned like a vice-grip upon their outward behaviors in order to preserve the national church-state until the coming of Christ. God legally required old covenant children to participate in rituals, feasts, assemblies, and church ordinances on pain of church discipline, and in some cases death. But external church law never won the heart of any child. In fact, it drove most of them further away. The Bible says the system of circumcision was a “yoke” that “neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear” (Acts 15:10).
So, what was the point of that old system? If the old covenant was so hard on the children, why did God put it into place? The Bible teaches us that God gave the old covenant church law, in part, to shape the people externally, to preserve them, and protect them as a nation, even to force them into behavioral submission through penalties, threats, and behavioral rewards, so that He might keep His promise to Abraham to bring about Christ through his descendants. The law externally restrained the nation so that Christ could come in later generations.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then the law was our guardian until Christ came in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith” (Gal 3:23-25).
The external coercion of church-state law was necessary to preserve the line of promise. But now that the Messiah (or faith) has come, there is no need to threaten or coerce our little ones to keep the law outwardly to preserve an unbroken line of descent. Because of Christ's coming, God is no longer preserving a genealogy. He's preserving the "children of the promise" (Rom 9:8).
Now that our Christ has come, church polity under the new covenant is administered graciously, not legally as it was under the old. It aims for the heart. It doesn't force church law upon our precious little children to secure their external performances. Rather it simply preaches the sweet mercies of Christ to them and summons them to believe in Him for the forgiveness of their sins and the eternal salvation of their souls. It never threatens unbelieving children with church discipline. It never foists upon them an identity by church ritual that they do not willingly own from within. It simply, freely, and constantly announces the great and merciful promises of Jesus.
The new covenant calls our precious little children to see Christ, to believe the One they see, and then to come to Him most willingly and freely from the heart. This is the gospel. It is the heart and essence of new covenant church polity. It aims not to coerce their behavior, but to win their heart. And as God omnipotently conquers the hearts of His children with His sovereign mercy and grace, these little ones do indeed come freely and willingly. They never have to resent the yoke as children did under the old system. Their little hearts are never crushed from without by church law.
Rather, in Matthew 19:14, our good Savior said, “Let the little children come to Me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Our little children are invited to "come" voluntarily to Christ, from their hearts. To "such" who "come" belongs the kingdom of heaven. Thanks be to God our sweet little ones are no longer hindered from freely and willingly coming by an external yoke too heavy for them to bear.