« PreviousContinue »
therefore he very rarely gives an account of such things as had been sufficiently related already by one or more of the other evangelists.
In St. Mark's gospel this history is recorded after this manner, ch. x. 13:" And they brought young children unto him, that he should touch them. And his disciples rebuked those that brought them. 14, But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them: Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God. 15, Verily, I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. 16, And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them."
St. Luke says, ch. xviii. 15: " And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them. But when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16, But Jesus called them unto him, and said: Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God. 17, Verily, I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, shall not enter therein."
These are the accounts which the evangelists have given us of this matter,
I shall endeavour to make an improvement of this history by_considering these several particulars :
I. Who were now brought to Christ.
II. For what end they were brought to him.
III. The reception he gave them; which at the very first view may be perceived to be kind and gracious.
IV. The declaration made concerning them, that "of such is the kingdom of heaven," or "the kingdom of God." I. The first particular to be considered by us is, who were now brought to Christ.
In St. Matthew they are styled little children. In one place of St. Mark we have, in our version, young children : but in the original it is still one and the same word; which therefore throughout those two evangelists should be uniformly rendered, little children.
In St. Luke they are called infants; a word, which, as the critics in the Greek language say, comprehends any children from the time of their birth, till they are four years of age. It is the same word which we have in another text: "Knowing, that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures," 2 Tim. iii. 15.
That these were little children may be inferred from a
circumstance mentioned in St. Mark, that Jesus “took them in his arms."
Their tender age may be argued likewise from hence: that it is not said of Christ, that he taught them, or asked them any questions.
I choose not to argue from the expression of their being brought to Christ; not thinking it sufficient to prove, that they were carried in arms. For the phrase may be used of such as are led, conducted, guided to a place or person.
Upon the whole we may conclude, I think, that they were what they are called by the evangelists, little children, or infants. None of them were arrived to the full exercise of reason, and some of them might be carried in the arms of their friends.
II. The next particular to be considered by us is, what views they had who brought these little children to Jesus; or, for what end they were brought to him.
It does not appear they were brought to Jesus to be healed by him of any sickness, or weakness, which they were afflicted with; for there is nothing of that kind hinted any of the evangelists, though no less than three of them have recorded this history. And, if that had been the case, the disciples, it is likely, would not have rebuked the persons who came with these children. For before now there had been such applications made to our Lord by many persons, not only for themselves, but for others also; for their friends, or their children, or their servants.
For what end and purpose, then, may some say, should these little children be brought to Jesus, who were so young as to have little or no exercise of reason and understanding, and must therefore have been incapable of receiving instruction?
That we may the better answer this inquiry, we should attend to the evangelists' expressions. St. Mark says, they brought little children to Jesus, that he should touch them." St. Luke: "they brought unto him also" or, even "infants, that he should touch them." But in our text, in St. Matthew, it is said: "that he should put his hands on them, and pray." And it is likely, that this is the meaning of all the evangelists; it having been common among the Jews, to lay the hand upon those whom they blessed, or for whom they prayed to God, that he would bless them. So, when Jacob blessed the two sons of Joseph in Egypt, a little before his death, he laid his hands upon each of them, Gen. xlviii. 14.
These persons therefore, here spoken of, brought these
“little children" to Jesus, that he might lay his hands upon them and bless them." They had a high opinion of the piety of Jesus, and of his interest in the divine favour. Probably they were disciples, or believers, such as took Jesus for a prophet, and even the great prophet who was to come, the Messiah. And they were desirous that their children should receive a blessing from him.
Some may be apt to think, this must have been a superstitious and fond conceit of these persons. To which I would answer, that, probably, it was not entirely so. For in that case Jesus would not have shown them such regard. It cannot be thought, that our Lord would countenance an action, that was altogether unreasonable, and quite destitute of all good foundation. And supposing that there was a mixture of some wrong views in this conduct, the Lord Jesus was more gracious than to reject these persons, or condemn their design upon that account. The twelve disciples had not been perfectly disinterested, or free from all secular views, in coming to him and following him. Yet he was well pleased with their attendance on him: and he promised them a reward for it if they continued to act as disciples with sincerity; though they still wanted a sinless perfection, and had not a wisdom void of all defects, Luke xxii. 28-30.
III. The third thing is the reception he gave these children; which, at the very first view, we plainly perceive to be kind and gracious.
The disciples rebuked those who brought them. They turned them away, as impertinent and troublesome. They refused them admission to the presence of their Master, and reproved their design in coming to him. But when Jesus perceived what had been done, he was much displeased, and said unto them, "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not;" nor their friends, who would bring them to me. And those in particular, who were now brought to him, he received. Some of them he "took up into his arms," and affectionately embraced them; on all he laid his hands, and blessed them."
How he blessed them, or prayed for them, the evangelists have not said particularly; but we may reasonably conclude, that he offered up to the Father some prayers for them, suited to the doctrine taught by him.
Possibly he presented some requests, agreeing with the prayer he had given to his disciples.
Or, he prayed for them that they might know God, and him whom he had sent, so as to obtain everlasting life.'
Or, Father, sanctify these little children through thy truth: thy word is truth.'
Or, I pray not, that thou shouldst now take them to thyself out of this world, though it be a world of snares and sorrows: but I pray that thou wilt keep them from the evil of the world. Father, keep through thy own name these little ones, which have been now brought unto ' me.'
In some such way as this we may suppose he blessed these little children, or prayed for them and recommended them to God; that is, in a manner becoming his affectionate concern for their real welfare and everlasting happiness, and his near relation and intimate union with the Father.
IV. The fourth and last thing to be observed by us is Christ's declaration concerning these little children: “ Of such is the kingdom of heaven."
So here in St. Matthew. But in the two other evangelists the expression is: "Of such is the kingdom of God." Which two expressions are equivalent, denoting one and the same thing; the gospel dispensation, the state of things under the Messiah, or the church and kingdom of God on earth, in which men are prepared for the heavenly state, the church and kingdom of God above: therefore John the Baptist said: "Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," Matt. iii. 2; ch. iv. 17. And so Jesus preached likewise.
"Of such is the kingdom of heaven:" that is, of such consists the kingdom of heaven. Or, to such belongs the kingdom of heaven, with its privileges: such as these are the members and subjects of God's church and kingdom on earth, and heirs of his kingdom in heaven, with all its riches and glory.
The chief difficulty is to determine the meaning of the word such; there being, as it is thought, an ambiguity in that expression. And it may be questioned whether we are hereby to understand, of such as resemble these little children is the kingdom of heaven: or of such little children as these. I shall therefore observe to you, how these words are paraphrased by some pious and learned expositors of scripture.
Upon these words an ancient writer observes: Christ does not say, of these, but of such is the kingdom of heaven: that is, of persons of simplicity, who are innocent, 6 and free from vice and wickedness.' A modern writer explains the words in this manner: Of these, and such b Luc. Bru. ap. Pol. Syn.
Theophyl. in Evang. p. 112. VOL. IX.
like. Christ does not exclude children, when he includes the adult, who are like them.' Another learned interpreter of our time thus paraphraseth the words of the text. Do not hinder little children from coming to me. For it is these, and men qualified like these, with innocence, humility, and a teachable disposition, free from all prejudices, ' and customs of sinning, that are the only fit persons to be 'made members of my church on earth, and inheritors of the kingdom of God in heaven.'
And we are farther assured, that our Lord intended to say: Of such as are like these little children is the kingdom of heaven;' because he does expressly recommend resemblance in what follows in St. Mark and St. Luke. Verily, I say unto you: Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of heaven as a little child, shall not enter therein." And I think, the other sense, though not so certain, ought not to be quite set aside: that is, to these and such little children, (as well as those who are like them,) belongs the kingdom of heaven.'
However, it is fit we should consider what Christ recommends in these words, and wherein they who are adult, and grown up to years of understanding, ought to resemble little children. Let me mention three or four things: freedom from prejudice, or openness to conviction; freedom from pride, or humility; freedom from worldly affections, or indifference to earthly things; and finally, freedom from custom of sinning, or innocence.
1. One thing observable in little children is, freedom from prejudices, or openness to conviction; which is one great part of a teachable disposition. Indeed, they do not know the truth. But then, neither are they prejudiced against it; and by that means they are ready to receive it, when proposed to them. This is a property which all ought to aim at, and to preserve so long as they are imperfect in knowledge. The want of this temper hindered the Jews from receiving Jesus, and the truths he taught. They had a prejudice, a false and groundless notion, that the expected Messiah would be an earthly prince and powerful monarch, and would set up a worldly kingdom on this earth; in the civil advantages of which his servants and followers should partake: whereas it was a spiritual empire in the hearts, and over the lives of men, and a kingdom of righteousness that he was to introduce, in order to prepare men for the services and enjoyments of the heavenly life.
It must be of great advantage, to be free from that pre
c Dr. S. Clarke.