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A LITTLE CHILD
Matthew 18:1-4. At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, 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. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
DISPUTES of any kind among the children of God are most unbecoming their holy character, more especially when they originate in a competition for pre-eminence. Yet such is the depravity of our nature, that we are prone to affect superiority and distinction even after we have seen the vanity of earthly things. The Disciples of Christ, as well from their condition in the world as from the example set before their eyes, seemed least exposed to such a temptation; yet even they repeatedly manifested an ambitious desire of worldly honours. They had been disputing who among them should be the greatest in that earthly kingdom which they supposed their Master was about to establish. Our Lord, knowing all which had passed in their hearts, interrogated them with respect to the subject of their conversation. But they, ashamed of it (as well they might be) held their peace. Finding however that all attempts to conceal it from him were in vain, they referred the matter to his decision. But their disingenuousness sadly appears, in that they propose the question to him only in a general way, as if they had felt no personal interest in it [Note: Compare St. Mark’s account, chap. 9:33–35. with ver. 1. of the text.]. Our Lord did decide it; but in a way they little expected. He exhibited before their eyes an emblem of true greatness, and shewed them,
The nature of conversion—
The conversion here spoken of means either a deliverance from that sin of which they were guilty, or a turning from sin in general [Note: Our Lord’s words may be understood either as a particular admonition to them, or as a general declaration grounded on this particular occurrence.]. Taking it in the more enlarged sense, it imports the becoming like a little child,
In humility of mind—
[A little child is not filled with notions of his own greatness and self-sufficiency, but feels his dependence on others for support. Happy would it be for us if such were the habit of our minds towards God. But fallen nature is far removed from such a state as this. We universally think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, and imagine ourselves possessed of whatever is necessary for our salvation. But in conversion our views are greatly changed. We are brought to acknowledge our extreme guilt and helplessness, and are made willing to depend on Christ alone for righteousness and strength [Note: See St. Paul’s views of these things before and after his conversion, Rom 7:9 and Philippians 3:6-7.].]
In teachableness of disposition—
[Man in his natural state is as prone to lean to his own understanding as to trust in an arm of flesh. Almost every one thinks he knows his duty; nor do they who confess their need of human instruction, feel any want of the teachings of God’s Spirit. But in this respect also their views are altered as soon as they partake of converting grace. As a little child is sensible of his ignorance, and ready to receive, without gainsaytug, the instructions given him, so the converted person, conscious that he knows nothing as he ought to know, desires to have the eyes of his understanding enlightened. He no longer disputes against the declarations of Scripture, but receives them implicitly, and looks up to God for that spiritual discernment whereby alone he can discover their truth and importance [Note: Job 34:32.Psalms 119:18; Psalms 119:18.].]
In indifference to the world—
[The world is the idol which man in his unconverted state adores; its riches and honours are the great objects of his affection and pursuit. In this he is the very reverse of a little child. An infant has no solicitude about earthly distinctions: satisfied with the one object of his desire, he leaves others to contend for power and pre-eminence. Thus it is with the Christian that is truly converted to God. He has one great concern which occupies his mind, one great prize which he is seeking to obtain. Whether he have much or little of this world he judges to be a matter of little consequence. He does indeed covet riches and honour; but it is the honour that cometh of God, and the unsearchable riches of Christ: and excessive cares about earthly honours or wealth he leaves to those who have no inheritance beyond the grave [Note: Galatians 6:14. δὐ οὑ, by which.].]
Having shewn his Disciples by this emblematical representation what conversion was, our Lord proceeded to declare,
The importance of it—
This he suggests in two different points of view:
Without such conversion no man can be partaker of the kingdom of grace on earth, or the kingdom of glory in heaven—
[Conversion is necessary before we can be truly admitted into the kingdom of grace on earth. We are indeed received into covenant with God in baptism; but it is regeneration that really makes us his children. We can never come to Christ as a Saviour, till we feel our need of him; we cannot learn of him, till we be willing to be taught; nor can we ever glorify him, till we be dead to the things of time and sense. The gate is too strait for us; the way of admission is too humiliating. The laws of his kingdom are such that our carnal minds neither will, nor can, obey them [Note: Romans 8:7.]. Nor can we ever partake of his kingdom of glory unless we experience this change. What could we do in heaven even if we were admitted there? We should have no meetness for it, no dispositions suited to the enjoyment of it. The glorified saints all cast their crowns before the feet of Jesus, and prostrate themselves in deep humility, ascribing all their salvation to him. How could we unite with them when we have never deigned to glorify him thus on earth? As for our worldly desires, what should we find to gratify them there? Heaven could be no heaven to us, if our affections were not set on the things that are there, and our employments suited to the exercises of that blessed state.]
In proportion as we experience such conversion will be our exaltation here and hereafter—
[Our Lord now plainly answers the question put to him. Let any one point out to us the person that most eminently resembles a little child, and we will immediately point out to him the greatest person in the world. It is not worldly grandeur that constitutes a person great, but moral excellence. “The righteous is more excellent than his neighbour,” whatever other advantages his neighbour may possess. Even the ungodly cannot but admire those most, who are most truly humble. At the very time that they revile and persecute them, they reverence them in their hearts, and have a secret wish that they themselves were like them. And the godly invariably admire those most who are the greatest proficients in this grace. The exaltation of such persons hereafter will certainly also be proportionably great. Perhaps there is not one in heaven nearer the throne of God than he, who, when on earth, called himself “less than the least of all saints [Note: Ephesians 3:8.].” Indeed God has repeatedly assured us that “he who humbleth himself shall be exalted.”]
We may improve this subject,
[How few are there who truly resemble a little child! By the generality such a disposition would be considered as mean, abject, enthusiastic. But let it be remembered that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of our souls. If a conversion from one particular sin was necessary in order to the salvation of the Apostles, notwithstanding all they had experienced, how much more must conversion be necessary for us, whose sins are so multiplied, and whose attainments are so small! Let us receive this declaration then as from the lips of him who shall judge the world. Let us apply to ourselves that solemn word, Ye must be born again [Note: John 3:3; John 3:5; John 3:7.]. And let us instantly seek that change which is so difficult in its attainment, and so important in its consequences.]
For instruction in righteousness—
[Have we been renewed in the spirit of our minds? Let us seek to be renewed more and more. The Apostles had forsaken all for Christ, and yet relapsed into the sin of worldliness and ambition. We never can become so childlike but that there may be room for farther advancement. Let the presence then of a little child be always a source of instruction to us. Let parents in particular, and all who have the care of children, learn from them; yea, let them never look upon a child without learning from him what they are to be in the hands of God. Let every one of us observe his simplicity of mind, and unity of desire; and let us regard him as a pattern for imitation. This was the very mind of Christ himself, who, being in the form of God, humbled himself, and took upon him the form of a servant. Let the same mind therefore be in us that was in him [Note: Philippians 2:5-6.]. “Seekest thou great things unto thyself? seek them not [Note: Jeremiah 45:5.]:” “Mind not high things, but condescend to low things [Note: Romans 12:16. in the Greek.].” “Whosoever would become the greatest of all, let him make himself the least of all, and the servant of all.”]
THE SECURITY OF GOD’S CHILDREN
Matthew 18:14. It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
OF all the images used in the Holy Scriptures for the representing of the Christian character, that of a little child is perhaps the most just and the most instructive. Its simplicity, its teachableness, its entire dependence on its parents for all things that are needful, render it a fit pattern for our imitation; so that our blessed Lord, when he would shew his Disciples the most exalted of all characters, “took a little child, and set him in the midst of them;” and declared, that the person who most resembled such a child was “the greatest in the kingdom of heaven [Note: ver. 4.].” But, whilst the resemblance is to be traced chiefly in the dispositions of the mind, it will be found also in the utter incapacity of a child to protect itself, or to supply its own necessities. The state of God’s children upon earth is one of great danger; insomuch, that they must of necessity perish, if he do not continually exert himself in their behalf. But, helpless as they are, it is the purpose and determination of God that not one of them shall ever perish. In confirmation of this truth, I will endeavour to set before you,
All the Lord’s people are exposed to many and great dangers;
From the corruption of their own hearts—
[They are by nature as depraved as other men, and as liable to commit every species of iniquity — — —]
From the temptations which beset them on every side—
[They have not a desire, to the gratification of which they will not find incentives, wherever they go — — —]
From the assaults of their great adversary, the devil—
[He is justly represented as a serpent for subtlety, and as a lion for strength: and his efforts to destroy them are incessant: “As a roaring lion, he goes about seeking whom he may devour.” And who can understand his wiles, or be sufficiently on his guard against his devices? He has all the powers of darkness also confederate with him, for the destruction of the Lord’s people. And who would be able to withstand him, if Almighty God himself did not stand forth for their help? If left to his assaults, not any child of man could ever be saved — — —]
From the pernicious influence of false brethren—
[To these, especial reference is made in the preceding context [Note: ver. 7.]. “It must needs be that offences will come:” some dishonouring the Gospel by their unholy lives; and others departing from it altogether. The effect of such examples is pernicious in the extreme: and, inasmuch as they prevail in every age of the Church, every one will be more or less in danger of being drawn to abandon the faith which has been so dishonoured by them [Note: 2 Peter 2:2.].]
But, in our text, we see,
God regards them as his peculiar property—
[It is this consideration which induces a shepherd to go in search of a sheep that he has lost. If there be only one out of a hundred that goes from the fold, he will search and inquire till he find it. And to this he is stimulated by the consideration that it is his property [Note: ver. 12, 13.]. Now, God regards his “little ones” in this view. Even the lambs of the flock are not despised by him. “He has loved them with an everlasting love:” “he has chosen them in Christ before the foundation of the world;” and “predestinated them to the adoption of children,” and set them apart to be a peculiar people for himself. Hence he feels a peculiar interest in them, and keeps his eye continually fixed upon them for good. He has given them from all eternity to his dear Son, to be his purchased possession: and they shall therefore be reserved as jewels to adorn his crown.]
He determines to preserve them even to the end—
[We are not to understand by the words of our text, that God has no ill design towards them; for he entertains not these against any child of man: “He willeth not the death of any sinner, but that all should come to repentance and live.” But, in behalf of “those who believe in Christ” [for this is the description given of his little ones], he has a fixed purpose, that they shall not perish: “He keeps them by his power” for that very end, that they may not fall: and “he will never suffer any one to pluck them out of his hand [Note: John 10:28-29.].”
We must not however imagine that he will keep them without exertions of their own. No: it is by and through their own exertions that God will keep them. The Holy Spirit is said to “help our infirmities;” just as one man helpeth another, by bearing together with him a part of his burthen [Note: συναντιλαμβάνεται.]. And, if we will not exert the powers which God has given us, we shall in vain look for aid on his part. I consider this sentiment as peculiarly important: because many, from an apprehension that God’s promised agency will generate supineness in us, discard altogether the idea that God has undertaken any thing for us. But God has assuredly engaged to “keep the feet of his saints,” and to finish in them the work he has begun: but he will carry this into effect by calling forth our efforts to the uttermost. “His working in us to will and to do of his own good pleasure,” is our encouragement to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling:” and, if we will not work for ourselves, we give a decided proof that the grace of God is not in us. If, on the other hand, we will “arise and work,” we shall find that “God is with us of a truth,” and that “our labour shall not be in vain in the Lord.”]
What should be our minds towards “the little ones” of Christ’s flock—
[We should “not despise them,” either because they are his, or because they are but weak [Note: ver. 10.]: still less should we put any obstructions in their way: for “it were better that a millstone were hanged about our neck, and that we were cast into the depth of the sea, than that we should offend one of his little ones [Note: ver. 6.].” We should rather be like-minded with God himself towards them, and afford them every aid in our power — — —]
How we ourselves maybe of their happy number—
[We have before said, that they are described by our Lord as “believing in him.” If, with a sense of our lost and undone condition, we come to him, and seek acceptance through him, then may we be sure that we are his; especially if our faith approve itself as genuine, by its fruits. “Cleave, therefore, to him with full purpose of heart;” and rest assured that God will “keep you from falling, and present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.”]
THE EFFICACY OF SOCIAL PRAYER
Matthew 18:19-20. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
GOD has mercifully provided for the peace and welfare of his Church, by appointing, that disputes amongst his people shall be referred to arbitrators in the first instance, and, in the failure of that, to the decision of those who bear rule in the Church: and he has engaged to ratify in heaven the sentence which they shall pass on earth. This supposes, indeed, that they who are appointed to judge, are men of real piety and strict integrity; and that they implore from him that wisdom which is profitable to direct and regulate their judgment.
He has also provided for their welfare, by encouraging them, individually and collectively, to spread their wants before him in prayer, assuring them, that they shall never apply to him in vain.
Let us consider,
The promise here given us—
A gracious answer to our prayers is here promised to us,
[Supposing that two persons, feeling deeply in their own souls their spiritual wants, agree to spread those wants before God in prayer, and to implore help from him; our Lord assures them, that they shall obtain what they ask for, at the hands of a gracious God and Father. True indeed, each person asking for himself, is encouraged to expect from God a supply of all needful blessings: but a particular assurance is given where two persons unite in prayer; because, by the agreement which is entered into between them respecting the blessings they shall ask, there is a more ample acknowledgment of God’s power and grace than is usually found in the petitions of a single individual, and at the same time a more enlarged exercise of faith and hope. Only conceive of them as agreeing respecting the extreme pressure of their wants, and the utter incapacity of any creature to relieve them—then, respecting the condescension and grace of God, who is both able and willing to supply all their need—and, lastly, as encouraging each other to expect from God the fulfilment of all his promises—and you will see immediately what reason there is for them to expect an answer to their united prayers, beyond what there would be to the petitions of a solitary individual.
Of course, the promise here given can relate only to those things which, when bestowed, will promote the best interests of the petitioners, and the honour of Almighty God. But with this only limitation, they may “open their mouths as wide as they will, and God will fill them.”]
[In the house of God we are to assemble “in the name of Jesus Christ;” that is, in obedience to him as our Lord, and in dependence on him as our Saviour. The whole Church ought, from time to time, to assemble for prayer: but, even if there be only two or three in number, they shall not on that account lose the blessings which they implore. God will honour the ordinances of his own appointment, and confer on his waiting people all the blessings which they stand in need of — — —]
Such is the promise of God to his Church and people: to estimate which aright, we should mark
The security we have for the performance of it—
The Lord Jesus assigns this as a ground of assurance to the suppliants: “It shall be done for them by my Father which is in heaven: for, where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Now, as the Shechinah, the bright symbol of the Deity, was in the holy of holies, and answers to prayer were obtained by the high-priest from it; so is Jesus ever in his Church, to give an answer of peace to his suppliant and believing people.
It is here supposed, that, whether individually or collectively, the suppliants draw nigh to God “in the name of Jesus Christ”—
[There is no access to God, for any man, but through Him — — — nor any danger of repulse to “any man that comes unto God by him.” God has said, that “not one such person shall ever in any wise be cast out” — — —]
Jesus Christ himself is already there, to secure to his believing people an answer to their prayers—
[He has said, “Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world [Note: Matthew 28:20.].” And he is in the midst of them, on purpose to bless them [Note: Exodus 20:24.].” He is expressly empowered by the Father to hear and answer their petitions. He has said, “Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son [Note: John 14:13.].” See, then, what security this affords us that our petitions shall be heard. He came down from heaven for us: he assumed our nature, and died for us on the cross: he ascended to heaven to intercede for us: he had all fulness committed to him for us, on purpose that we might receive out of it according to our necessities. When, therefore, he hears us pleading the merit of his blood, and looking to him for the very blessings which he purchased for us, can we suppose that he will cast out our prayer? No: we may assure ourselves, that, as “he is in the midst” of his praying people, no prayer of theirs shall ever go forth in vain. Whether they be many or few, it shall make no difference with him: he will hear, and answer, and do for us “far beyond all that we can either ask or think” — — —]
With what pleasure we should attend the house of God—
[Were it proclaimed abroad, that, at a certain time and place, all who would come should assuredly meet the Lord Jesus Christ, in the very body that he possessed on earth, no church in the universe would be large enough to contain one half of the people who would be assembled together. Yet, what would it be to see him with our bodily eyes, in comparison of seeing him by faith, as we do in his house of prayer? Dear brethren, those who beheld him in the flesh, were not near so highly privileged as you, who “behold the glory of God shining in his face” through every page of his blessed Gospel. O estimate your privileges aright; and you will account the ordinances of the Gospel precious beyond the powers of language to express.]
What improvement we should make of social converse—
[We should endeavour, not so much to amuse, as to edify our friends. Do but think what is here promised, that “if only two be agreed respecting what they shall ask, they may obtain it by their united supplications.]; I almost wonder that, with our friends, we can find time to talk of any thing but our mutual wants, or to occupy ourselves in any thing but united supplications. At all events, we cannot but see what should be the daily habit of endeared friends, and especially of those who are united in wedded life. Dear brethren, know your privileges, and learn to make such an improvement of them as shall further and secure the eternal welfare of your souls.]
THE UNMERCIFUL SERVANT
Matthew 18:32-35. Then his lord, after he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow-servant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
MEN in general think themselves sufficiently instructed in morality; but, for the most part, their views of it are very partial and defective. The duty of forgiving injuries is universally acknowledged; but few are aware to what an extent it is required of them. Peter, though a good man, needed much instruction on this head. He thought the limits he assigned to this principle were generous and ample; but our Lord rectified his judgment by an explicit declaration, and pointed out the grounds of his duty in an instructive parable.
From the words before us we are led to consider the extent, the reasonableness, and the necessity, of Christian forgiveness:
[It does not forbid the execution of human laws, since magistrates are appointed of God on purpose to enforce them [Note: Romans 13:4.]: nor does it prohibit the just exercise of authority in parents or masters. But it must extend to all offences, however numerous, however heinous [Note: “Seventy times seven.”] — — — And proceed from a heart wholly divested of malice or resentment [Note: Proverbs 24:29.] — — — We need not indeed restore to our favour one who continues unworthy of it [Note: Luke 17:3-4.]; or forbear to punish him while he continues to merit our displeasure. But we must pity the offender while we punish the offence; and seek, in inflicting punishment, both his and the public good. We must feel towards him as an affectionate parent towards an offending child [Note: “From your hearts.”]. We must feel disposed to pray for him, and to cover, rather than expose, his faults [Note: Proverbs 24:17-18.]; and we must earnestly desire to behold in him such a disposition, as may open a way to perfect reconciliation with him.]
[Every man owes to God a debt that exceeds all calculation — — — Nor can the debt which any fellow-creature owes to us, bear any proportion to that which we owe to God [Note: Ten thousand talents amount to above four millions sterling; whereas a hundred pence are somewhat less than three guineas, Doddr. in loc.]. Yet we all hope to obtain of God a free remission and forgiveness; yea, provided we believe in Christ, our debt is already cancelled. Should not then a sense of mercy received, incline us to shew mercy? Should we “take a fellow-servant by the throat,” when the great Lord of all has spared us? Should we rigorously exact a few pence, when we have received a remission of ten thousand talents? It would be base indeed not to act towards an offending brother, as God has acted towards us, when we were enemies and rebels [Note: The Jubilee commenced on the day of atonement, to shew that men are then especially bound to exercise mercy, when they themselves have received mercy. Leviticus 25:9.].]
[There is an intimate connexion between the exercise of God’s mercy to us, and ours to others. Though our forgiving of others cannot merit forgiveness from God, yet it will certainly be followed by it. On the other hand, an unmerciful disposition towards others will be the certain means of excluding us from God’s favour [Note: Matthew 6:14-15.James 2:13; James 2:13.]. It will cut us off from the enjoyment of the mercy we seemed to have obtained [Note: The parable must not be understood to say, that God revokes mercy, when he has once really pardoned us. See Romans 11:29. Hebrews 8:12.]. In uttering the Lord’s prayer, we shall even seal our own condemnation [Note: Matthew 6:12.]. Let us then, if we desire to find mercy in the day of judgment, forgive others, as we hope to be forgiven [Note: Colossians 3:12-13.].]
Let us learn from hence,
How to obtain forgiveness for our own offences—
[We must not merely ask for patience in hopes of discharging our own debt: we must rather acknowledge our inability to pay one single mite; and implore at God’s hands a free and complete forgiveness. We must not however conclude from the parable, that there is no need of the mediation of Christ: it is through him alone that we can derive any blessings from God; but we must ask for mercy as a gift, instead of attempting to make any compensation for our own iniquities.]
How to obtain a forgiving temper towards others—
[If we know not what we ourselves merit at God’s hands, we shall be ready to think much of any injuries which we receive from others; but if once we become sensible of the greatness of our debt to God, and of the obligations he has laid us under by the free offers of his mercy, we shall feel no difficulty in exercising forbearance and forgiveness. Resentment cannot long dwell in the bosom of one who has tasted redeeming love. Let it then be our study to obtain a thorough knowledge of our own depravity, and to imitate the longsuffering, which we ourselves so richly experience.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Matthew 18". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11