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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 shares. ⚫ 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, and free from vice and wickedness.' A modern writerb explains the words in this manner: Of these, and such a Theophyl. in Evang. p. 112. b Luc. Bru. ap. Pol. Syn.
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.
judice, or any other like it: and to be determined to quit any notion, when good evidence to the contrary is produced. 2. Another thing observable in children, and in which others ought to resemble them, is, freedom from pride, or humility. This temper also renders men teachable and tractable, and susceptible of improvement in knowledge and virtue; whereas conceit is a most effectual bar to improvement of every kind. They who are opinionated of their knowledge and wisdom, or of their eminent character, and noble exploits and services, will not bear to be admonished, nor submit to receive new truths and farther discoveries, how well soever recommended.
Here we cannot avoid recollecting those words of our Lord, where he expresseth his cheerful acquiescence in the success of his ministry, and says: "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth: because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes," Matt. xi. 25.
"Hid from the wise and prudent:" not from those who were really so; but from those who were so esteemed by many, and who were opinionated of their own knowledge and wisdom, and their reputation in the world; whilst the doctrines and truths of the gospel were understood, believed, and embraced by babes: men of inferior station and condition, meaner attainments, and less conceited of themselves, and perhaps despised by others. But not being greatly conceited, they hearkened to instruction, and discerned and embraced the truths taught and proposed to them.
3. Another thing observable in children is freedom from earthly affections, or indifference about the great things of this world; such as riches, honour, and preferment. This is so obvious, not only in little children and infants, but in all very young persons in general, that parents, and others of experience in life, are oftentimes not a little concerned at it, lest they should not duly regard their temporal interests. And they think it expedient to show them the use and value of these things, and by frequent observations infuse at least a small degree of ambition, and some worldly-mindedness into their constitution.
But our blessed Lord, without undervaluing or depreciating any of the comforts of this life, recommends and highly esteems, as you well know, a judicious contempt of all earthly things, and a determined preference of truth and integrity, the favour of God, and a title to the heavenly happiness, above all earthly honours, possessions, and enjoyments. And he often declares, that he who is not willing
to part with what he has of these things for his sake, if the circumstances he is brought into should require it, cannot be his disciple, or approve himself a lover of truth.
The necessity of resembling little children in indifference to riches, or in a freedom from inordinate affection for them, is illustrated by a history, which follows the text of the rich man, who, when directed by Christ to go and sell what he had, and give to the poor; assuring him withal, that then he should have treasure in heaven; "went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions."
The necessity of resembling little children in freedom from ambition, or an immoderate desire of grandeur and preferment, Christ taught his own disciples in particular. For, when they had asked him, "who should be greatest in the kingdom of heaven," supposing the kingdom of the Messiah would have in it much honour and power," he 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," Matt, xviii. 1-4.
4. Another thing, in which others ought to resemble little children, is freedom from custom of sinning, or innocence. Little children, and infants, such as most, or all those who were now brought to Christ, are universally allowed to be free from actual sin. They have as yet made no wrong choice; they have done no evil thing. And others, who have sinned, in order to partake of the kingdom of God, are to become like them, by washing away their sins with the tears of unfeigned sorrow, by reformation and amendment, by ceasing to do evil, and being free from the habitual and allowed practice of all iniquity.
Of such as these consists the kingdom of heaven. To those who in these things resemble little children belongs the kingdom of God. Such will receive the gospel. They will come into the kingdom of the Messiah. They will continue true members and faithful subjects of it, and finally inherit all the glory and happiness of the kingdom of God above.
V. Having considered these several particulars, let us now make a farther improvement in some reflections.
1. The doctrine of this text may afford comfortable thoughts concerning such as die in infancy, or in very early age, before they have done good or evil. Christ, speaking of little children, says: "Of such is the kingdom of heaven."
If he do not clearly say, of these, and such like children, yet he certainly says, of such as resemble them, is the kingdom of heaven. And if we should not suppose him to say expressly more than that, yet it is sufficient to fill us with comfortable apprehensions concerning those who are removed hence in very early life. For it cannot be easily admitted, that they should perish everlastingly, who are set before others as emblems of simplicity, innocence, and humility, and patterns of imitation and resemblance.
To these do not belong the characters of those whom Christ will bid depart from him. They are not workers of iniquity. They have not refused to entertain and relieve the afflicted and persecuted followers of Jesus on earth. He has declared, that " they who do not receive the kingdom of heaven as a little child, shall not enter therein." And can it be thought that little children shall be excluded?
2. This text teaches us to be cautious, how we disparage the human nature, and say, that it is in its original conception corrupt, depraved, and defiled. Our Lord seems not to have acknowledged any original depravity of our nature: for he recommended a resemblance of little children to his disciples, and others. And when little children were brought unto him, he expressed affection for them. He embraced them, and blessed them, and said, "Of such is the kingdom of heaven."
They who vilify nature, do, in effect, (though perhaps unwittingly, and undesignedly,) reproach the Author of
Solomon, after an attentive survey of the affairs of this world, and particularly the many disorders therein, was fully persuaded of this truth: "This only have I found," says he, "that God made man upright. But they have sought out many inventions," Ecc. vii. 29.
St. Paul, when he proves all men, both Jews and Gentiles, guilty before God," Rom. iii. 19, alleges not their bad nature, but their evil practices.
Some indeed are early drawn aside into evil courses by the snares of this world; which occasioned the Psalmist to say hyperbolically of some wicked men: "They are estranged from the womb. They go astray as soon as they are born," Ps. lviii. 3. And in like manner David, after the commission of the great sins he had fallen into, recollects also his past sins, and says: "he had been shapen in iniquity, and in sin did his mother conceive him," Ps. li. 7: that is, he laments his too great propensity to some sins, and