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—DECEMBER 8.—MATTHEW 18:1-14.—
PERHAPS IT WAS the fact that Peter, James and John had been favored more than the others on several occasions that led to the query which opens today's study: "Who, then, is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?" They knew, of course, as St. Paul declares, that the Heavenly Father is above all, and that next to Him is our Lord Jesus Christ. "To us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by Him." What the disciples wished to know was, which of them would be greatest, most influential, in Messiah's Kingdom, next to Himself.
Jesus, calling to Him a little child, set him in the midst of them and said, "Verily I say unto you, except ye turn [from this spirit of self-seeking which your question implies] and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the Kingdom of Heaven"—you will have no part in it, you will not be fit. Whoever would be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven should therefore become as humble as this little child.
A little child, unsophisticated, is ready to acknowledge its lack of wisdom. It asks questions, a thousand a day, perhaps as many as that in an hour; it seeks instruction; it does not profess and boast wisdom or knowledge—it is candid, it is truthful. It is in later years that it learns from its parents and others, untruthfulness, pride, bombast and various qualities which it did not possess at first. It may have possessed the disposition to pride and arrogance and haughtiness, etc., by heredity, but at first it was guileless, and "as a little child."
The Master's lesson is that whoever would become a child of God and be taught of God, and be eventually developed as a child of God, for the glorious position in the Kingdom to which we were called, must become childlike—must turn away from all pride, from selfish ambitions and hypocrisies and pretentions. They must confess their littleness and ignorance, and go humbly to the Lord for the necessary instruction.
Any who refuse to adopt this proper, childlike spirit will thus be refused the opportunities of the Kingdom, for God will have none others—none others can be taught of God, they will not learn the lessons necessary, under the arrangements of this present time. Here then is the standard of simplicity and artlessness which the Lord's people should adopt and should continue to allow to control them, regardless of their years and experiences. "Now we know in part"; we are dependent upon our Father and His instructions. We have entered the School of Christ, our Elder Brother; He is our Instructor; we must learn of Him, and to learn we must be in this proper, childlike attitude of mind.
We are not to understand that little children, however guileless, are members of Christ's Kingdom class, nor that the dear little ones dying in infancy will be members thereof. The Lord is seeking for mature men and women, who have a childlikeness of mind, a readiness to receive the Heavenly Father's Message, and who in gladness and simplicity of heart accept it. "Whoso shall receive one such little child in My name, receiveth Me"; whoever are My disciples are privileged to be God's little children, and thus to be My younger brothers; whoever will receive one such will be receiving Me. "Whosoever shall offend," or injure, "one of these little ones that believe in Me, it were better for him if a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were sunk in the depths of the sea."
If some one were thus drowned in the sea, it would indeed terminate his present life, but it would not at all endanger or influence his future life. A future life, by a Restitution awakening, is assured to Adam and every member of his race. Neither drowning nor any other form of death could possibly interfere with it. But he who would injure one of the Lord's little ones would thereby come under such a measure of Divine displeasure that it would affect his future interests beyond the grave, beyond his awakening. He would be held responsible for his deeds, even in the next life, in proportion as he realized what he was doing when he injured the Lord's saints.
The Lord declares that His faithful ones are as precious to Him as the apple of His eye, and that all their interests are subject to Divine supervision. He will allow nothing to happen to these; troubles permitted to come upon them will be only such as the Lord has foreseen and is able to make work out some blessing in connection with their preparation for the Kingdom. But even this fact will not excuse wilfulness on the part of those who do evil to the members of the Body of Jesus.
We remember the persecution of the saints by Saul of Tarsus. We remember Jesus said to him, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?" He answered, "Who art Thou, Lord?" And Jesus replied, "I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest." In persecuting the saints Saul of Tarsus had been persecuting Jesus, but because he did it ignorantly God had mercy upon him. Doubtless many saints from Jesus' day down have been persecuted ignorantly, and the Lord will have mercy upon those persecutors; but some of the persecuters have had such light, such knowledge, as to make them responsible; and it is of this class that our lesson speaks. Our Lord added a warning: "Woe unto the world because of offenses! It must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh."
Here the Master brought in a saying which has perplexed many. "If thy foot cause thee to stumble, cut it off, and cast it from thee; it is better to enter life maimed, or halt, than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee; it is better to enter into life with one eye, than that having two eyes thou be cast into Gehenna fire."
Those who fail to remember that Jesus spake to the people in parables, and never without a parable, will be liable to stumble over these words of His. His teaching is this: If you have anything in your make-up dear to you as a right hand or a foot or an eye, that is likely to cause you to stumble and fail to enter the Kingdom, you would better cut off that tendency, no matter what it costs, no matter how precious, no matter how great a hold it may have upon the very tendrils of your life. Would it not be better to enter into life than to go into Gehenna fire, that is, destruction, the Second Death? Surely this is true. Having put our hands to the plow, having even become followers of Jesus, we must either go on and be accepted as conquerors, or must perish.
There will, of course, be none in the Kingdom with but one eye, but the illustration is the same. If it should cost us the cutting off of some of our members, it would surely pay us to gain the eternal life in glory, even thus maimed, rather than to take the consequences of the [R5131 : page 347] Second Death, utter extinction. The lesson is that having begun as followers of Christ, and entered upon the contract and received a part of the reward, the Holy Spirit, the Divine favor, we cannot back out of the contract; we must go on to everlasting life or to everlasting death.
How careful the Lord's people should be not to stumble one another, even one of the least of the little ones who has accepted of Jesus and become His follower!—is the lesson. To illustrate it, Jesus suggested that any shepherd losing one of his sheep would leave all the others to go and seek that one; and he rejoices specially at its recovery. So we, the followers of Jesus, should be careful not to stumble each other, but rather to remember that we are all sheep under the great Shepherd, our Heavenly Father, and the great Under Shepherd, our Heavenly Lord, and that He has the spirit of loving interest and care which would go after the straying sheep, and that we should have this same spirit; and possessing this spirit, we would be very careful indeed not to stumble or hinder even the least of the Lord's followers.
All the Lord's true followers are God's "little ones," and are subject to special Divine supervision, represented in our text as angel care. The messengers who have guarded over the lives of God's saintly few always have access to the Heavenly Father's presence, to make known the necessities of those whom they represent, for Divine Power is ever on the alert for the protection of these. Oh, how blessed the privilege of being children of God. Oh, how wise to continue so little, so humble, so childlike, as to abide in His love, and to be enabled to learn the necessary lessons, and be ultimately received with Messiah in His Kingdom honor and glory!