1 At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?
Can we imagine the feelings of Jesus? How utterly alone he must have felt! How overpowering the consciousness that he alone of the earth's millions could see through its headlong folly! How crushing the weight of his single-handed task of instruction and enlightenment! *
2 And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them,
On another occasion the disciples had imperiously forbidden children to bother Christ. "The setting up of the kingdom was a work for men," they said. "The glorious, majestic Messiah of Israel had no time for children."
He had been very angry on that occasion, as he rebuked their proud and misguided zeal. Here again a great and fundamental lesson is to be driven home.
"Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?" they had asked. How they underestimated the privilege of their position and the difficulties of the long, hard road that lay before them! Christ's answer fell with sobering weight on their enthusiastic rivalries. They were going far too fast. Entrance into the Kingdom was no foregone conclusion, as they had hastily assumed. Directing their attention to the despised child in their midst, he said...*
3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Here was a new and bewildering viewpoint. The children whom they had thrust away were set before them, as examples of the attitude to which they must be converted, if they would so much as even gain an entrance to the Kingdom, let alone be greatest in it.
In what way are we to become as children? Mainly in unlearning many of the lessons that the world has carefully taught us. In going back to childhood's viewpoint that we may learn anew in truth from Christ. How early the world teaches its children selfishness and ambition and bitterness and distrust! This is the sordid legacy that is carefully handed down. Even if it can give us nothing else, it takes infinite pains to teach us this.
This third verse is not merely a pleasing figure of speech. It is not to be contemplated abstractly with a warm glow of sentimental approbation. It is a positive command, an absolute ultimatum-"Whosoever shall not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child" (as Luke's record gives it in 18:17) "shall IN NO WISE enter therein."
The world regards itself, and us, as men-wonderful, mature, self-dependent creatures of vast intellect and even vaster importance. And it engages with an amusing, but tragic, obsession in a multitude of pursuits, which it describes by various flesh-appealing phrases, such as "getting somewhere," "being somebody," "amounting to something," and similar terms. All of which represent, in the main, the accumulation of various amounts of property, prestige and power (often quite useless and always troublesome), each increasing in desirability as it becomes inaccessible and enviable to others less fortunate.
The basis of its operations it terms "self-preservation, the first law of nature," which, of course, in Scriptural terms, is the mind of the flesh. In all its activities the world worships maturity, adulthood, self-reliance, aggressiveness, ambition, and domination.
How necessary and refreshing is the lesson brought to our attention in this scene from the life of Christ! The world brusquely says, "Adults only." The gentle message of Christ is, "None but children." **Bro Growcott - As little Children
4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
We all know that a child is simple, artless and deferential, with very little disposition to stand upon ceremony or dignity. We all know that the Gentile ideal of manhood differs exceedingly from this. We are brought up among the Gentiles, and naturally catch their views and spirit. It may be a hard lesson, but we must discard these if we are to come into harmony with the mind of Christ.
He requires us to humble ourselves as little children. It is the requirement of the Spirit of God. The current pride and arrogance of society have their source in the mere propensities of nature, which, while having a useful place in subjection to wisdom, become as inconvenient and destructive and ugly as the unregulated predatory instincts of the savage.
Nazareth Ch 38.
Before we can receive his blessing, we must cast aside these noble, manly, lofty delusions of self-dependence. We must realize the paltriness of the achievements upon which the world has built its illusions of grandeur; and we must unreservedly confess our utter and childish helplessness.
In analyzing the qualities of childhood, we must use discernment. The Bible does not introduce children to our attention as models of perfection-much to the contrary-but the observing mind will see the lessons that Christ teaches.
There are certain fundamental characteristics of childhood to which our notice is drawn. Their existence is explained by the incomplete development and hardening of the motions of sin, and the limited opportunity that worldly maturity has had to poison the mind and impressions with its false wisdom and cut-throat philosophy. Therefore, the younger the child, usually the better the example.
The first childish quality that is drawn to our attention is HUMILITY. This is the basic lesson of the present chapter-
"Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven" - verse 4.
Childlike humility-not a hypocritical or ceremonial self-abasement, but a free and natural recognition of inferiority, unmarred by any tendency either to glory in it or to conceal it-the natural reaction of the normal child before it learns from its elders the questionable worldly wisdom of pride, deception and dissimulation.
Why is humility necessary? Because it is the inevitable accompaniment of wisdom and a clear understanding of our position, and its absence indicates either ignorance or deceit-both equally fatal.
This overlaps another trait of childhood we must possess-NATURALNESS. Society has chosen to laden itself with thick clay of sham and artificiality. Outward appearance is made the all-important thing. The scriptural lesson is that outward show and inward worth are very rare companions.
To the world's dull senses, intrinsic solemnity and sincerity have no appeal. It must have the gaudy, mincing pageantry that, to the eye of wisdom, speaks of a sad emptiness within. Paul suffered much from shallow-minded men, who gloried in appearances and belittled his unreserved heartiness and lack of ostentation.
The unconscious wisdom of young childhood, which makes no false pretence of splendor, knowledge, or importance, is a refreshing antidote to the universal adult practice of attempting to disguise a weak, pitiful, decaying body of sin with gaudy embellishments of dress, deportment and conversation.
Then there is SIMPLICITY-
"In simplicity and Godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God."
Simplicity-the word breathes of an indescribable peace and tranquility from the countless unanswerable complexities of existence. The patriarch Job suffered anguish of mind, as he sought to plumb the fathomless depths of God's ways and appointments, but he was taught to find peace in the assurance that in the ultimate all things work together for good, and God is just, and all man needs is simple faith.
Solomon too, in Ecclesiastes, ponders and weighs the inconsistencies of life and experience, and he, like Job, learns he must accept it with childlike simplicity-
"Fear God and keep His commandments: this is the whole duty of man."
Man's sole concern and obligation is to learn God's will, as thoroughly as his opportunities permit, and of course, to obey it. Nothing else need bother us. Childlike simplicity and singleness of purpose is the keynote. It is grown men with idle, speculating minds, that have added all the complications. *
*Bro Growcott - As Little Children
6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
The recovery of the truth in an age of universal worldliness and superstition was an event of such unutterable consequence, in my estimation, and the having been allowed to become acquainted with it after the horrors of sectarian theology, was a privilege of such incomputable magnitude, to my judgment, that the duty of resisting the corruption and slack handling of it seemed self-evident. Yet those precepts of Christ that prescribe care as to stumbling blocks in the path of the little ones believing in him, and that enjoin abstention from judgment and condemnation of others lest we ourselves be judged, exercised a deterrent effect, which almost paralysed decision.
At last, the manifest opposition to Bible truth, and the counsels of elders, prevailed over all scruples, and led me to see that the only path of light and safety was to disregard mere persons, to "know no man after the flesh," and to make the truth of God the rule of friendship and communion. The course of events has since justified the soundness of this policy.
My Days and My Ways Ch 32
8 Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire.
With the popular notions about the kingdom of God it is not possible to interpret the passages before us in Matthew and Mark. How can a man enter eternal life in a kingdom beyond the skies one-eyed, or maimed, as the result of losing an eye or a hand; does the loss of a member of the body extend to what is called "the immortal soul?" This question is unanswerable.
Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come, June 1851
10 Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.
Till the Lord Jesus, however, sits on his throne as "King of the Jews" (John 18:33-39; 19:12-19), the providential direction of human affairs is committed to the Elohim; who are termed the angels of the little ones who believe in Jesus" (Matt. 18:3-6,10), because they minister to their profit, in causing all things among the nations to work together for their ultimate good.
Elpis Israel 2.3.
15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
Nothing tends more to the keeping or the restoring of peace than the observance of this law; and no law is more constantly broken. The universal impulse, when anything is supposed to be wrong, is to tell the matter to third persons. From them it spreads, with the result of causing much bad feeling which, perhaps, the original cause does not warrant, and would not have produced if the aggrieved person had taken the course prescribed by Christ, and told the fault "between thee and him alone."
If good men, or those who consider themselves such, would adopt the rule of refusing to listen to an evil report privately conveyed, until it had been dealt with to the last stage according to the rule prescribed by Christ, much evil would be prevented. Disobedience is almost the universal rule in this matter. The results are serious now, in the generation of hatred instead of love. Much more serious will the result be to the offenders against this rule in the day when all matters will be measured and settled by the divine rule.
Jesus indicates that any decision arrived at by an ecclesia in the proper application of this rule will be respected and confirmed by God Himself: "Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." This is much encouragement to the brethren to be faithful in the matter. The application of the rule will often make it unnecessary to advance beyond the first stage.
A brother approached privately, with every opportunity of explanation, will often make concessions that must remain impossible if he is made the subject of public opprobrium, however deserved. The healing of a matter will often be the result if you go and tell a man his fault "between thee and him alone." If there be no fault, there will be explanation and understanding. If there be, there will be concession and forgiveness. And we are not to weary in the recurrence of the process....
The mind cannot exhaust the beauty of this commandment.
Nazareth Revisited Ch 38.
16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the ecclesia: but if he neglect to hear the ecclesia, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
The Ecclesial Guide 35. -- Disputes.
There ought to be no murmurings and disputings among the brethren of Christ. It is forbidden. Nevertheless, in the mixed state allowed to prevail in all ecclesias during probation, they are sure to arise. Wisdom, therefore, requires that we be prepared to deal with them in a proper manner when they arise. There is a way of dealing with them that heals them, and a way that has just the opposite effect. There is no more dangerous and prolific cause of distress and ruin in an ecclesia than the wrong treatment of causes of dispute. This must be the excuse for giving the subject a lengthy attention.
There are two sorts, both different, and yet both related as regards the spirit and aim with which they ought to be treated. 1. Individual offences. 2. Ecclesial differences.
No time ought to be lost in dealing with either one or the other. The longer time that elapses in the application of a remedy, the more difficult does the application of the remedy become. Individual misunderstandings spread coldness beyond the persons affected; and ecclesial differences are liable to settle into chronic alienations, which blight every good work.
The Ecclesial Guide 36. -- Individual Offences.
Christ has laid down the law very plainly for the curing of these; and it is the duty of the brethren everywhere to see it obeyed. They ought to refuse to countenance those who disobey it. If a brother takes offence at what another has said or done, he is bound to meet that other brother in private interview for the discussion of the grievance between the two alone. In most cases, this course stops alienation at its first stage; it either removes misconception, if that has been the cause of the trouble; or it leads to the admission of wrong on the part of the offender, followed by forgiveness on the part of the offended.
Of course, there are many matters too trifling to be made the subject of such a process. The man who recognises the infirmity of human nature all round, and the evil nature of the few days we have to live, is able to exercise that magnanimous charity that covers a multitude of sins, heeding not all words that are spoken, and even practising the habit of returning good for evil: -- bless always -- cursing never, either directly or by implication -- as the commandments of the house of Christ require.
But supposing an offence arise which a brother cannot thus overlook, but which he feels to be a barrier between himself and the offender, then he is bound to take the course indicated. He is not at liberty to mention the matter to a third party, and he is not at liberty to stand aside in a state of alienation. If he do either the one or the other, he makes himself as much an offender as he may imagine the cause of his injured feelings to be. A man who disobeys the commandment of Christ on one point, is as much a transgressor as the man who disobeys it on another. Consequently, an ecclesia knowing of such a case, is bound to persuade the offended brother to see the offender in private, or to withdraw from him in case of refusal.
There is everything to be said in favour of Christ's commandment in this matter. It is humbling to the offended to have to go and see the man who has offended him (and if he is too proud to submit to this, he is self-condemned: for the proud are an abomination to God); and it gives to the offender the best chance he could possibly have of making any amends the case may call for. The act of the offended brother coming and seeing him has a conciliatory effect on him: and his personal presence gives him the opportunity of thoroughly discussing every point on the spot.
A communication through a third party (or still worse, a letter), is on fulfilment of the law of Christ; offers none of its opportunities of reconciliation; is rather calculated to prolong and aggravate the irritations of the case; and ought not to be received as a compliance with the law of the case. The brethren, refusing to listen to the merits of the case one way or other, ought to insist upon the offended seeing the offender, or dissociate themselves from his company.
The plea that it is of no use ought not to be entertained for one moment. Such an impression ought not to be made a reason for disobeying a plain commandment. Whether of use or of no use, an offended brother is bound either to drop the quarrel, or see the offending brother. It is not as if the failure of the interview left him without remedy.
His next step is (in case of failure) to take two or three other brethren with him. Where the interview between the two parties fails, this may succeed, because fresh influences is brought to bear with fresh and conciliatory minds. The offended brother is bound to take this step, as well as the other: otherwise he is disobedient. It may be of no use, but it must be done. If it succeed, he has his reward. If it fail, he has his remedy: he is to bring the matter before the whole ecclesia. The ecclesia is then to admonish the offender if he be found in the fault. If the offender refuse to hear them, it is their duty to separate him from their fellowship by withdrawal.
Unless individual offences are strictly treated in this way, the community will constantly be in danger of disturbance and even disruption. An offended man, allowed to ventilate his grievance among other, is liable to enlist the feelings of others on his behalf, and the brother against whom the grievance is entertained, is liable, in self-defence, to urge his side of the case: and thus bad feeling is diffused, and a state of mind generated that easily leads to division. Let Christ's wise rule be insisted on and the mischief is stopped at its beginning.
Even in the interests of self-defence, Christ's wise rule ought to be insisted on. Who is safe from slander if a brother may pour his evil thoughts into the ear of a third person? What righteous man would suffer if every complainer were first compelled to make known his complaints to the person against whom they were directed? Nothing will more effectually secure peace in a community than the maintenance of Christ's rule for dealing with offences personal or otherwise.
20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
Does this not indicate a special interest on the part of Christ in assemblies held for his memory and love and honour? And must it not be that his attention fixed on such an assembly has a beneficial effect on those who are present?
We must remember that in his exaltation, Christ is "the Spirit," as well as the glorified Son of Man. He is a bodily nucleus that has become one with universal power, in nature and control. He requires not to be bodily in a place to be aware of those who are present, or to influence them for good or evil. His attention practically amounts to a being "in the midst," and his power to give this attention to different assemblies at the same time must be as great as his power to act as intercessor for thousands at once who pray in different parts of the earth.
The capacities of the Spirit in this respect may baffle our mortal powers of conception but that they exist is manifest in many ways in heaven and earth. The simultaneous operations of the Spirit is one of the most wonderful facts in the history of revelation, and in the physical constitution of the universe. The action of gravitation, light, "ether", and electricity illustrate the point in physical nature.
The opening of the mind to the Lord's power in this respect will help us to appreciate the assemblies in honour of his name, which he has required; and to understand the possible cause of the blessing we receive in the act of obedience in the matter.
21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till 7 times?
Peter (always the first to speak), desirous of applying Christ's lesson and anxious to catch its spirit, asks- "Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times?"
Poor Peter! Who but an adult would think o f counting forgivenesses? How noble he felt! Seven times! The Rabbis, we are told, limited it to three.
But again, we must turn to the nobility of infancy for an example of Christ's answer. There is to be no reckoning of forgivenesses. How repeatedly a small child will forgive and forget! How soon are hurts forgotten! How easy reconciliation! What young child would think of the cramped and calculating course of grudgingly numbering these occasions? It takes a mature adult to properly bear a grudge.
Consider the solemnity of Christ's final words on the subject. Speaking of the miserable fate of the unmerciful debtor in his parable, he says, verse 35-
"So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye FROM YOUR HEARTS forgive not every one his brother their trespasses."
22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until 7 times: but, Until 70 times 7.
Wonderful allusion to the 70 week prophecy (70x7) 'to make reconciliation for iniquity' (Dan 9:24).
A parable intended to illustrate a saying like this must be a parable enforcing mutual forgiveness as a paramount duty among the servants of Christ; but it goes further than this, and shows that a failure to render this duty will be a very fatal affair to the offender. His own forgiven sins will be revived against him if he assume an exacting and unforgiving attitude towards others.
The importance of the matter is shown by the way Christ binds it up with the petition he puts into the mouths of his disciples for the forgiveness of trespasses:
"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us."
By this association of words he confronts us with our duty to others every time we ask forgiveness for ourselves. It is a good test of our standing in the matter, whether we are able to make our forgiveness of others the measure of the forgiveness we request for ourselves. The remark with which Jesus concludes the parable is decisive.
"So likewise shall my heavenly Father do unto you (as the lord of the parable did to the servant) if ye from your hearts forgive not everyone his brother their trespasses."
Nazareth Revisited Ch 31.
28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.
About a million to one is the proportion that Christ employs in parable to express the difference between the forgiven debt of the unmerciful servant and the paltry matter for which he seized his fellow-servant by the throat. We shall endure much if we can only succeed in making a calm estimate.
34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.
The judgment predetermined for the Diabolos and his angels, or for the slaying and destroying of Daniel's Fourth Beast, is all comprehended in the Seven Last Plagues, styled in the seventh verse of this chapter, "seven golden vials full of the wrath of the Deity."
The territory of the Fourth Beast's dominion, upon which is developed the "fiery indignation which devours the adversaries," is the symbolical "lake of fire;" and when an actual wrathful conflagration, burning with the Divine anger, it is to pur to ajonion, the Aion-Fire, "prepared for the Diabolos and his angels," into which the unprofitable and slothful of the Ecclesia, or One Body, are ordered to depart, and into which, therefore, they "go away" to suffer Aion-torments in the symbolic period of 'a thousand six hundred furlongs".
By the end of these forty years, "the tormentors" will have exacted all that is due (Matt. 18:34; Apoc. 14:10). In paying this their carcasses will have fallen in the wilderness, the victims of death a second time. "This is the Second Death: and whosoever" upon inspection, is "not found written in the Book of Life is cast into the lake of fire" (Apoc. 20:14,15): and thus "his name is blotted out" and unconfessed before the Father and the angels" (Apoc. 3:5).
Thus the satanic element of the One Body is purged out, or separated and destroyed. Its separation precedes the reaping of the harvest of the earth; and its tormentation and destruction are synchronous with the infliction of "torment and sorrow" upon Babylon the Great, and the treading of the winepress in the vintage of the earth.
Their torment is eis ajonas aionon, and therefore aionian. It does not transcend this limit, because the wrath of the Deity is then all exhausted. Nevertheless, its effects abide upon them - "they shall not see life; but the wrath of the Deity abideth on them" (John 3:36).
35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
Let us then-in humility, in naturalness, in simplicity, in forgiveness, in freedom from malice, in purity, in guilelessness, in trustfulness, in heedlessness of worldly cares, in dependence on our Father-be obedient children, worthy of our exalted relationship to Him.
Bro Growcott - As Little Children