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8 Wherefore if thy hand or
thy foot offend thee, cut them
a Mark ix. 33. Luke ix. 46; & xxii. 24.-6 Pa. cxxxi. 2. eh. xix. 14. Mark x. 14. Luke xviii. 16. 1 Cor. xiv. 20. 1 Pet. ii. 2.-c ch. xx. 27; & xxiii. 11.-d ch. x. 42. Luke ix. 48.-e Mark ix. 42. Luke xvii. 1. 2.-f Luke xvii. 1. 1 Cor. xi. 19.-g ch. xxvi. 24.- ch. v. 29.
off, and cast them from thee: 30. Mark ix. 43. 45.-i Ps. xxxiv. 7. Zech. xiii. 7. Heb.
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.
9 And if thine eye offend thee pluck it out, and cast it from thee it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.
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
11 For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. 12" How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?
13 And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray.
14 Even so it is not the will
your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.
i. 14.- Esth. i. 14. Luke i. 19- Luke ix. 56; & xix. 10. John iii. 17; & xii. 47.-m Luke xv. 4.
Reader.-We have here an account of our Saviour's instructions to his
disciples on the occasion of a very unbecoming contest which had arisen among them concerning precedency, or the question who should be first and greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Perhaps they did not venture to propose this question to their master; but it was one which appears to have been warmly debated among themselves. The narrative is given. at length by St. Mark (ix. 33—41), and more briefly by St. Luke (ix. 46-50). St. Mark says expressly that Jesus "came to Capernaum; and being in the house he asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way? But they held their peace, for by the way they disputed among themselves who should be the greatest." And St. Luke also tells us that our Lord spoke to them on the subject, "perceiving the thought of their heart." Hence it appears that while this controversy existed among themselves they were yet ashamed, as they well might be, to bring it before their master. And when St. Matthew wrote "At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus saying," he probably meant to place the transaction in precisely the same light, leaving his reader to understand "saying among themselves," not, "saying unto Jesus." They came unto Jesus; and (as they came) they were saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?
The existence of such a dispute as this makes it evident that the disciples did not yet rightly understand the nature of Christ's kingdom. They were still fixing their minds and hearts upon some temporal dominion, attended with outward pomp and worldly power; and were not sufficiently alive to the fact that the reign of the Messiah would be distinguished by righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. Such is the power of prejudice! so slow is the heart of man to detach itself from worldly things, and to apprehend things spiritual and heavenly!
There is, however, one fact, of some importance to ourselves, which may be inferred from this unhappy and disgraceful dispute. It is clear from the circumstance before us, that no precedency had been yet granted to any one of the Apostles; and that the words lately addressed by our Lord to St. Peter in particular were not intended, or understood, as conveying to him any priority or rule over his brethren. How could the disciples have disputed among themselves who should be the greatest, if the question had already been decided by the highest authority in favour of St. Peter? The very existence of this debate proves that no preeminent power or dignity was granted to St. Peter by those words which had already been addressed to him, Thou art Peter, and on this rock will I build my church. -And, more than this, the answer which our Lord gave to the question makes it appear not only that he had not yet given any precedence
to either of his apostles, but that he did not intend to do so at any future time. If he had designed to make St. Peter the prince of the Apostles, an opportunity was now given for conferring this dignity upon him ;-or rather, our Lord would have been compelled, in fairness and honesty of speech, to set the controversy at rest by declaring the truth of his intention! But no such declaration was drawn forth, just because no such design was ever formed.
In the ancient church there was an unfounded tradition that the little child, whom our Lord called to him and placed in the midst of his disciples on this occasion, was Ignatius, afterwards bishop of Antioch, who suffered martyrdom about the year 107. The story, being without sufficient proof, is worth nothing; but doubtless it had its meaning and use when it was first propagated. The name of Ignatius was unfairly used, in the early centuries, for the purpose of exalting the power and influence of the hierarchy. Forged epistles, attributed to this holy man, were published, containing extravagant and unscriptural views of the office and claims of Christian Ministers, and tending to support the rising ecclesiastical system; and it is probable that fabulous tradition was employed with a view to give weight and dignity to the name of this supposed champion of an ambitious and grasping priesthood. If we value the simple truth of Scripture, we must be on our guard against tradition, even
when its stories may appear, at first | embraces perhaps all that can be
sight, to be merely amusing and harmless.
I must make a few observations in explanation of our Lord's words in v. 10,-"I say unto you that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my father which is in heaven.' Observe, our Saviour is not here speaking merely of young children, but of his humble, meek, child-like disciples, of whatever age. He has been speaking of them from verse 5; where he said 'whoso shall receive one sUCH little child in my name,' i. e. one who shall humble himself as the little child at that moment present, -one who is a child, not in years, but in heart and spirit,-humble, teachable, and mild. So then our Lord is here speaking of the angels of his faithful and humble disciples and he declares, with allusion to the custom of earthly courts and palaces, where certain favourites and high officers are admitted into the royal presence, that these angels are always in the presence of God. But what is meant by "their angels?" I answer that perhaps it is too much to deduce from this expression the doctrine that each saint on earth has a guardian angel assigned to him; but that it is certainly necessary to regard this verse as coinciding with the general tenor of Scripture, by which we are given to understand that God vouchsafes to employ the ministry of angels for the benefit of his faithful and holy servants upon earth. The following judicious note of Burkitt
safely and wisely said in explanation of this interesting verse. We may learn hence, says he, "first, what is the office and employment of the glorious angels; namely, to be the immediate attendants upon the royal person of the supreme King and Sovereign of the world:-and, secondly, in what esteem good men are with God, and what a mighty regard he has for the meanest of his children, that he commits the care and preservation of them to the holy angels, who are nearest to him and in highest favour and honour with him. It is Jerome's note upon this place, that great is the dignity of these little ones, seeing every one of them from his birth has an angel delegated to preserve him. But though others think that the opinion of a tutelary angel, or of one particular angel's having the custody of one particular saint as his continual charge, has not a sufficient foundation in the holy Scriptures; yet all the angels in heaven are ministering spirits unto them; and though they do not always attend upon their persons, for they stand before the face of God, yet it is to receive his commands either to help them in their exigencies, or to punish those that injure them."
In verse 12, we shall perhaps keep more nearly to the sense of the original if we adopt the translation which has been sanctioned by Luther and others,-"Doth he not leave the ninety and nine upon the mountains, and goeth, and seeketh that which is gone astray?" The
sense is still the same; but the picture is perhaps more natural. The figure of a shepherd leaving his flock in search of a strayed sheep was familiar among the Jews, and was used to denote the exercise of great zeal and affection on the part of the destitute and lost.
READER. Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven ?-Needless, painful, and even sinful, inquiry,-if it relates to worldly preeminence, dignity, and power. Would that it had altogether disappeared from the church of Christ! But, alas, the fire of unholy ambition still burns in the midst of many churches, great and small. Still there are lordly claims, and factious oppositions, and wretched controversies upon this endless question, Who shall be the greatest? Who shall establish the strongest claims to power, who shall enjoy the largest share of it, who shall be the most undoubted and most absolute lord over God's heritage? But let it not be so with us. Let us rather entertain a question like this with reference to Christian temper, character, and practice. Let us consider what is the spirit-what is the conduct-which God loves best, and which he most delights to honour. And let us humbly resolve, in dependence on divine grace, that that which is most pleasing and precious in the sight of our heavenly Father shall be also most delightful and welcome to ourselves. Let us "covet earnestly the best gifts."
Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.-Our Lord warned his apostles that they must cease to entertain those proud, domineering, and ambitious desires to which they had yielded, and must possess a more meek and peaceable temper, before they would be fit to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Their views respecting the office and reign of the Messiah needed to be reformed before they could even understand aright the nature of those blessings and dignities of which they seemed anxious to partake. Repeated conversions from various particular errors, evil tempers, or bad habits are needful in the progress of Christian sanctification. When occasions have led to the detection of any latent evil, or the development of any sinful propensity, then we are more especially called upon to seek the aid of divine grace in enabling us to correct what is amiss in us, and to give a new and holy bias to our depraved inclinations and desires.-In these words of our blessed Lord, we find also a general truth of great importance to us all. We must be converted from our naturally proud, self-willed, worldly state of mind and heart, and must become humble, teachable, and free from the enslaving influence of earthly desires. "Converting grace makes us like little children; not foolish as children (1 Cor. xiv. 20), nor fickle (Eph. iv. 14), nor playful, (ch. xi. 16); but, as children, we must desire the sincere milk of the word (1 Pet. ii. 2); as children, we must be careful for no
thing, but leave it to our heavenly Father to care for us (ch. vi. 31); we must, as children, be harmless, and inoffensive, and void of malice (1 Cor. xiv. 20), governable, and under command (Gal. iv. 2); and, (which is here chiefly intended), we must be humble as little children." See Ps. 131. Matt. v. 3, 5.-The contrary temper unfits men for the presence of God, and the blessedness of heaven. "Whatever profession men make, yet if they allow themselves in pride and ambition, they will be rejected both from God's tabernacle, and from his holy hill. Pride threw the angels that sinned out of heaven; and will keep us out, if we be not converted from it." In the church and kingdom of the Redeemer, the deepest humility is the highest greatness, and the sure road to exalted happiness and honour. He who possesses the largest share of Christian lowliness, simplicity, and meekness, as he has most of the spirit of Christ, so he will also receive the greatest measure of the blessings which Christ be
offend grievously against the laws of the Gospel, if we withhold our esteem and goodwill from our brethren merely because they do not belong to the same section or party in the church as ourselves. And this point is strongly set before us in the course of this narrative, as related by St. Mark ix. 38, 39, and by St. Luke ix. 49, 50: "And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us."-How great is the honour which the blessed Jesus here puts upon his meek and lowly followers! He speaks of them as his own representatives upon earth; he regards that which is done to them as done to himself.—And he added for our warning, Whoso shall offend i. e. put a stumbling-block, or an occasion of injury or falling, in the way of one of these little ones that believe in me,-one of my humble, childlike, disciples, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea, (according to an ancient custom of punishing grievous malefactors in the east),—it were better for him to die at once than to bring the guilt of such a sin upon his soul.-Let us beware of doing anything which may vex the spirit, and especially anything which may lead to weaken the graces, of even the meanest believer in Jesus.—But alas, such is the wickedness of man, We-such the pride and obstinacy of
And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name, receiveth me.It is our duty, and, if we are Christ's faithful servants, it will be our delight, to look with kindness and hearty goodwill upon all those who bear the image of the meek and lowly Saviour. We must love them, and do them good, for his sake. Every humble, meek, child-like believer in Jesus, of whatever religious denomination, whether a member of our own church or of another, has a claim upon our Christian sympathy and love.