Commentary on the Gospel (Matt. 18:1-10)
M A T T H E W.
The gospels are, in short, a record of
what Jesus began both to do and to teach. In the foregoing chapter, we had
an account of his doings, in this, of his teachings; probably, not all at
the same time, in a continued discourse, but at several times, upon divers
occasions, here put together, as near akin. We have here, I. Instructions
ver. 1-6. II. Concerning offences in general (ver.
7), particularly offences given, 1. By us to ourselves,
ver. 8, 9. 2. By us to others,
ver. 10-14. ...See how practical Christ's preaching was; he could have
revealed mysteries, but he pressed plain duties, especially those that are
most displeasing to flesh and blood.
The Importance of Humility.
1 At the same time came the disciples
unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? 2 And
Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, 3
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. 4
Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is
greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoso shall receive one such
little child in my name receiveth me. 6 But whoso shall offend one of
these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a
millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth
of the sea.
As there never was a greater pattern of
humility, so there never was a greater preacher of it, than Christ; he took
all occasions to command it, to commend it, to his disciples and followers.
I. The occasion of this discourse
concerning humility was an unbecoming contest among the disciples for
precedency; they came to him, saying, among themselves (for they were
ashamed to ask him,
Mark ix. 34), Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? They
mean not, who by character (then the question had been good, that
they might know what graces and duties to excel in), but who by name.
They had heard much, and preached much, of the kingdom of heaven, the
kingdom of the Messiah, his church in this world; but as yet they were so
far from having any clear notion of it, that they dreamt of a temporal
kingdom, and the external pomp and power of it. Christ had lately foretold
his sufferings, and the glory that should follow, that he should rise again,
from whence they expected his kingdom would commence; and now they thought
it was time to put in for their places in it; it is good, in such cases, to
speak early. Upon other discourses of Christ to that purport, debates of
this kind arose (ch.
xx. 19, 20; Luke xxii. 22, 24); he spoke many words of his sufferings,
but only one of his glory; yet they fasten upon that, and overlook the
other; and, instead of asking how they might have strength and grace to
suffer with him, they ask him, "Who shall be highest in reigning with him."
Note, Many love to hear and speak of privileges and glory, who are willing
to pass by the thoughts of work and trouble. They look so much at the crown,
that they forget the yoke and the cross. So the disciples here did, when
they asked, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?
1. They suppose that all who have a place
in that kingdom are great, for it is a kingdom of priests. Note, Those are
truly great who are truly good; and they will appear so at last, when Christ
shall own them as his, though ever so mean and poor in the world.
2. They suppose that there are degrees in
this greatness. All the saints are honourable, but not all alike so; one
star differs from another star in glory. All David's officers were not
worthies, nor all his worthies of the first three.
3. They suppose it must be some of them,
that must be prime ministers of state. To whom should King Jesus delight to
do honour, but to them who had left all for him, and were now his companions
in patience and tribulation?
4. They strive who it should be, each
having some pretence or other to it. Peter was always the chief speaker, and
already had the keys given him; he expects to be lord-chancellor, or
lord-chamberlain of the household, and so to be the greatest. Judas had the
bag, and therefore he expects to be lord-treasurer, which, though now he
come last, he hopes, will then denominate him the greatest. Simon and Jude
are nearly related to Christ, and they hope to take place of all the great
officers of state, as princes of the blood. John is the beloved disciple,
the favourite of the Prince, and therefore hopes to be the greatest. Andrew
was first called, and why should not he be first preferred? Note, We are
very apt to amuse and humour ourselves with foolish fancies of things that
will never be.
II. The discourse itself, which is a just
rebuke to the question, Who shall be greatest? We have abundant
reason to think, that if Christ ever intended that Peter and his successors
at Rome should be heads of the church, and his chief vicars on earth, having
so fair an occasion given him, he would now have let his disciples know it;
but so far is he from this, that his answer disallows and condemns the thing
itself. Christ will not lodge such an authority or supremacy any where in
his church; whoever pretend to it are usurpers; instead of settling any of
the disciples in this dignity, he warns them all not to put in for it.
Christ here teacheth them to be humble,
1. By a sign (v.
2); He called a little child to him, and set him in the midst of
them. Christ often taught by signs or sensible representations
(comparisons to the eye), as the prophets of old. Note, Humility is a lesson
so hardly learned, that we have need by all ways and means to be taught it.
When we look upon a little child, we should be put in mind of the use Christ
made of this child. Sensible things must be improved to spiritual purposes.
He set him in the midst of them; not that they might play with him,
but that they might learn by him. Grown men, and great men, should not
disdain the company of little children, or think it below them to take
notice of them. They may either speak to them, and give instruction to them;
or look upon them, and receive instruction from them. Christ himself, when a
child, was in the midst of the doctors,
Luke ii. 46.
2. By a sermon upon this sign; in which
he shows them and us,
(1.) The necessity of humility,
v. 3. His preface is solemn, and commands both attention and assent;
Verily I say unto you, I, the Amen, the faithful Witness, say it,
Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter
into the kingdom of heaven. Here observe,
[1.] What it is that he requires and
First, "You must be converted,
you must be of another mind, and in another frame and temper, must have
other thoughts, both of yourselves and of the kingdom of heaven, before you
be fit for a place in it. The pride, ambition, and affectation of honour and
dominion, which appear in you, must be repented of, mortified, and reformed,
and you must come to yourselves." Note, Besides the first conversion of a
soul from a state of nature to a state of grace, there are after-conversions
from particular paths of backsliding, which are equally necessary to
salvation. Every step out of the way by sin, must be a step into it again by
repentance. When Peter repented of his denying his Master, he was converted.
Secondly, You must become as little children. Note, 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 nothing, 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
Cor. xiv. 20), governable, and under command (Gal.
iv. 2); and (which is here chiefly intended) we must be humble as little
children, who do not take state upon them, nor stand upon the punctilios of
honour; the child of a gentleman will play with the child of a beggar (Rom.
xii. 16), the child in rags, if it have the breast, is well enough
pleased, and envies not the gaiety of the child in silk; little children
have no great aims at great places, or projects to raise themselves in the
world; they exercise not themselves in things too high for them; and
we should in like manner behave, and quiet ourselves,
Ps. cxxxi. 1, 2. As children are little in body and low in stature, so
we must be little and low in spirit, and in our thoughts of ourselves. This
is a temper which leads to other good dispositions; the age of childhood is
the learning age.
[2.] What stress he lays upon this;
Without this, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Note,
Disciples of Christ have need to be kept in awe by threatenings, that they
may fear lest they seem to come short,
Heb. iv. 1. The disciples, when they put that question (v.
1), thought themselves sure of the kingdom of heaven; but Christ awakens
them to be jealous of themselves. They were ambitious of being greatest
in the kingdom of heaven; Christ tells them, that, except they came to a
better temper, they should never come thither. Note, many that set up for
great ones in the church, prove not only little, but nothing, and are found
to have no part or lot in the matter. Our Lord designs here to show
the great danger of pride and ambition; whatever profession men make, if
they allow themselves in this sin, 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. They that are
lifted up with pride, fall into the condemnation of the devil; to
prevent this, we must become as little children, and, in order to do that,
must be born again, must put on the new man, must be like the holy
child Jesus; so he is called, even after his ascension,
Acts iv. 27.
(2.) He shows the honour and advancement
that attend humility (v.
4), thus furnishing a direct but surprising answer to their question. He
that humbles himself as a little child, though he may fear that hereby he
will render himself contemptible, as men of timid minds, who thereby throw
themselves out of the way of preferment, yet the same is greatest in the
kingdom of heaven. Note, The humblest Christians are the best
Christians, and most like to Christ, and highest in his favour; are best
disposed for the communications of divine grace, and fittest to serve God in
this world, and enjoy him in another. They are great, for God overlooks
heaven and earth, to look on such; and certainly those are to be most
respected and honoured in the church that are most humble and self-denying;
for, though they least seek it, they best deserve it.
(3.) The special care Christ takes for
those that are humble; he espouses their cause, protects them, interests
himself in their concerns, and will see that they are not wronged, without
Those that thus humble themselves will
[1.] That nobody will receive them; but
5), Whoso shall receive one such little child in my name, receiveth
me. Whatever kindnesses are done to such, Christ takes as done to
himself. Whoso entertains a meek and humble Christian, keeps him in
countenance, will not let him lose by his modesty, takes him into his love
and friendship, and society and care, and studies to do him a kindness; and
doth this in Christ's name, for his sake, because he bears the image of
Christ, serves Christ, and because Christ has received him; this shall be
accepted and recompensed as an acceptable piece of respect to Christ.
Observe, Though it be but one such little child that is received in Christ's
name, it shall be accepted. Note, The tender regard Christ has to his church
extends itself to every particular member, even the meanest; not only to the
whole family, but to every child of the family; the less they are in
themselves, to whom we show kindness, the more there is of good will in it
to Christ; the less it is for their sakes, the more it is for his; and he
takes it accordingly. If Christ were personally among us, we think we should
never do enough to welcome him; the poor, the poor in spirit, we have
always with us, and they are his receivers. See
ch. xxv. 35-40.
[2.] They will be afraid that every body
will abuse them; the basest men delight to trample upon the humble; Vexat
censura columbasóCensure pounces on doves. This objection he obviates (v.
6), where he warns all people, as they will answer it at their utmost
peril, not to offer any injury to one of Christ's little ones. This word
makes a wall of fire about them; he that touches them, touches the apple of
Observe, First, The crime
supposed; offending one of these little ones that believe in Christ.
Their believing in Christ, though they be little ones, unites them to him,
and interests him in their cause, so that, as they partake of the benefit of
his sufferings, he also partakes in the wrong of theirs. Even the little
ones that believe have the same privileges with the great ones, for they
have all obtained like precious faith. There are those that offend these
little ones, by drawing them to sin (1
Cor. viii. 10, 11), grieving and vexing their righteous souls,
discouraging them, taking occasion from their mildness to make a prey of
them in their persons, families, goods, or good name. Thus the best men have
often met with the worst treatment in this world.
Secondly, The punishment of this
crime; intimated in that word, Better for him that he were drowned in the
depth of the sea. The sin is so heinous, and the ruin proportionably so
great, that he had better undergo the sorest punishments inflicted on the
worst of malefactors, which can only kill the body. Note, 1. Hell is worse
than the depth of the sea; for it is a bottomless pit, and it is a burning
lake. The depth of the sea is only killing, but hell is tormenting. We meet
with one that had comfort in the depth of the sea, it was Jonah (ch.
ii. 2, 4, 9); but never any had the least grain or glimpse of comfort in
hell, nor will have to eternity. 2. The irresistible irrevocable doom of the
great Judge will sink sooner and surer, and bind faster, than a
mill-stone hanged about the neck. It fixes a great gulf, which can never
be broken through,
Luke xvi. 26. Offending Christ's little ones, though by omission, is
assigned as the reason of that dreadful sentence, Go ye cursed, which
will at last be the doom of proud persecutors.
Cautions against Offences.
7 Woe unto the world because of
offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by
whom the offence cometh! 8 Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee,
cut them off, and cast them from thee: 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 in
Our Savior here speaks of offences, or
I. In general,
v. 7. Having mentioned the offending of little ones, he takes occasion
to speak more generally of offences. That is an offence, 1. Which occasions
guilt, which by enticement or affrightment tends to draw men from that which
is good to that which is evil. 2. Which occasions grief, which makes the
heart of the righteous sad. Now, concerning offences, Christ here tells
(1.) That they were certain things;
It must needs be, that offences come. When we are sure there is danger,
we should be the better armed. Not that Christ's word necessitates any man
to offend, but it is a prediction upon a view of the causes; considering the
subtlety and malice of Satan, the weakness and depravity of men's hearts,
and the foolishness that is found there, it is morally impossible but that
there should be offences; and God has determined to permit them for wise and
holy ends, that both they which are perfect, and they which are not, may
be made manifest. See
1 Cor. xi. 19; Dan. xi. 35. Being told, before, that there will be
seducers, tempters, persecutors, and many bad examples, let us stand upon
ch. xxiv. 24; Acts xx. 29, 30.
(2.) That they would be woeful things,
and the consequence of them fatal. Here is a double woe annexed to offences:
[1.] A woe to the careless and
unguarded, to whom the offence is given; Woe to the world because of
offences. The obstructions and oppositions given to faith and holiness
in all places are the bane and plague of mankind, and the ruin of thousands.
This present world is an evil world, it is so full of offences, of sins, and
snares, and sorrows; a dangerous road we travel, full of stumbling-blocks,
precipices, and false guides. Woe to the world. As for those whom God hath
chosen and called out of the world, and delivered from it, they are
preserved by the power of God from the prejudice of these offences, are
helped over all these stones of stumbling. They that love God's law have
great peace, and nothing shall offend them,
Ps. cxix. 165.
[2.] A woe to the wicked, who wilfully
give the offence; But woe to that man by whom the offence comes.
Though it must needs be, that the offence will come, that will be no excuse
for the offenders. Note, Though God makes the sins of sinners to serve his
purposes, that will not secure them from his wrath; and the guilt will be
laid at the door of those who give the offence, though they also fall under
a woe who take it. Note, They who any way hinder the salvation of others,
will find their own condemnation the more intolerable, like Jeroboam, who
sinned, and made Israel to sin. This woe is the moral of that judicial
xxi. 33, 34-22:6), that he who opened the pit, and kindled the fire, was
accountable for all the damage that ensued. The antichristian generation, by
whom came the great offence, will fall under this woe, for their delusion of
Thess. ii. 11, 12), and their persecutions of saints (Rev.
xvii. 1, 2, 6), for the righteous God will reckon with those who ruin
the eternal interests of precious souls, and the temporal interests of
precious saints; for precious in the sight of the Lord is the blood
of souls and the blood of saints; and men will be reckoned with, not
only for their doings, but for the fruit of their doings, the mischief done
II. In particular, Christ here speaks of
1. By us to ourselves, which is
expressed by our hand or foot offending us; in such a case, it must be
v. 8, 9. This Christ had said before (ch.
v. 29, 30), where it especially refers to seventh-commandment sins; here
it is taken more generally. Note, Those hard sayings of Christ, which are
displeasing to flesh and blood, need to be repeated to us again and again,
and all little enough. Now observe,
(1.) What it is that is here enjoined.
We must part with an eye, or a hand, or a foot, that
is, that, whatever it is, which is dear to us, when it proves unavoidably an
occasion of sin to us. Note, [1.] Many prevailing temptations to sin arise
from within ourselves; our own eyes and hands offend us; if there were never
a devil to tempt us, we should be drawn away of our own lust: nay, those
things which in themselves are good, and may be used as instruments of good,
even those, through the corruptions of our hearts, prove snares to us,
incline us to sin, and hinder us in duty. [2.] In such a case, we must, as
far as lawfully we may, part with that which we cannot keep without being
entangled in sin by it. First, It is certain, the inward lust must be
mortified, though it be dear to us as an eye, or a hand. The flesh, with
its affections and lusts, must be mortified,
Gal. v. 24. The body of sin must be destroyed; corrupt
inclinations and appetites must be checked and crossed; the beloved lust,
that has been rolled under the tongue as a sweet morsel, must be abandoned
with abhorrence. Secondly, The outward occasions of sin must be
avoided, though we thereby put as great a violence upon ourselves as it
would be to cut off a hand, or pluck out an eye. When Abraham quitted his
native country, for fear of being ensnared in the idolatry of it, and when
Moses quitted Pharaoh's court, for fear of being entangled in the sinful
pleasures of it, there was a right hand cut off. We must think nothing too
dear to part with, for the keeping of a good conscience.
(2.) Upon what inducement this is
required; It is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than, having
two hands, to be cast into hell. The argument is taken from the future
state, from heaven and hell; thence are fetched the most cogent dissuasives
from sin. The argument is the same with that of the apostle,
Rom. viii. 13. [1.] If we live after the flesh, we shall die;
having two eyes, no breaches made upon the body of sin, inbred corruption
like Adonijah never displeased, we shall be cast into hell-fire. [2.]
If we through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body, we shall live;
that is meant by our entering into life maimed, that is, the body of
sin maimed; and it is but maimed at the best, while we are in this world. If
the right hand of the old man be cut off, and its right eye be plucked out,
its chief policies blasted and powers broken, it is well; but there is still
an eye and a hand remaining, with which it will struggle. They that are
Christ's have nailed the flesh to the cross, but it is not yet dead; its
life is prolonged, but its dominion taken away (Dan.
vii. 12), and the deadly wound given it, that shall not be healed.
1. Concerning offences given by us to
others, especially Christ's little ones, which we are here charged to take
heed of, pursuant to what he had said,
v. 6. Observe,
(1.) The caution itself; Take heed
that ye despise not one of these little ones. This is spoken to the
disciples. As Christ will be displeased with enemies of his church, if they
wrong any of the members of it, even the least, so he will be displeased
with the great ones of the church, if they despise the little ones of it.
"You that are striving who shall be greatest, take heed lest in this contest
you despise the little ones." We may understand it literally of little
children; of them Christ was speaking,
v. 2, 4. The infant seed of the faithful belong to the family of Christ,
and are not to be despised. Or, figuratively; true but weak believers are
these little ones, who in their outward condition, or the frame of their
spirits, are like little children, the lambs of Christ's flock.
[1.] We must not despise them, not think
meanly of them, as lambs despised,
Job xii. 5. We must not make a jest of their infirmities, not look upon
them with contempt, not conduct ourselves scornfully or disdainfully toward
them, as if we cared not what became of them; we must not say, "Though they
be offended, and grieved, and stumble, what is that to us?" Nor should we
make a slight matter of doing that which will entangle and perplex them.
This despising of the little ones is what we are largely cautioned against,
Rom. xiv. 3, 10, 15, 20, 21. We must not impose upon the consciences of
others, nor bring them into subjection to our humours, as they do who say to
men's souls, Bow down, that we may go over. There is a respect owing
to the conscience of every man who appears to be conscientious.
[2.] We must take heed that we do not
despise them; we must be afraid of the sin, and be very cautious what we say
and do, lest we should through inadvertency give offence to Christ's little
ones, lest we put contempt upon them, without being aware of it. There were
those that hated them, and cast them out, and yet said, Let the Lord be
glorified. And we must be afraid of the punishment; "Take heed of
despising them, for it is at your peril if you do."
(2.) The reasons to enforce the caution.
We must not look upon these little ones as contemptible, because really they
are considerable. Let not earth despise those whom heaven respects; let
those be looked upon by us with respect, as his favourites. To prove
that the little ones which believe in Christ are worthy to be respected,
[1.] The ministration of the good angels
about them; In heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father.
This Christ saith to us, and we may take it upon his word, who came
from heaven to let us know what is done there by the world of angels. Two
things he lets us know concerning them,
First, That they are the little
ones' angels. God's angels are theirs; for all his is ours, if we be
1 Cor. iii. 22. They are theirs; for they have a charge concerning them
to minister for their good (Heb.
i. 14), to pitch their tents about them, and bear them up in their arms.
Some have imagined that every particular saint has a guardian angel; but why
should we suppose this, when we are sure that every particular saint, when
there is occasion, has a guard of angels? This is particularly applied here
to the little ones, because they are most despised and most exposed. They
have but little that they can call their own, but they can look by faith on
the heavenly hosts, and call them theirs. While the great ones of the world
have honourable men for their retinue and guards, the little ones of the
church are attended with glorious angels; which bespeaks not only their
dignity, but the danger those run themselves upon, who despise and abuse
them. It is bad being enemies to those who are so guarded; and it is good
having God for our God, for then we have his angels for our angels.
Secondly, That they always
behold the face of the Father in heaven. This bespeaks, 1. The angels'
continual felicity and honour. The happiness of heaven consists in the
vision of God, seeing him face to face as he is, beholding his beauty; this
the angels have without interruption; when they are ministering to us on
earth, yet even then by contemplation they behold the face of God, for they
are full of eyes within. Gabriel, when speaking to Zecharias, yet
stands in the presence of God,
Rev. iv. 8; Luke i. 19. The expression intimates, as some think, the
special dignity and honour of the little ones' angels; the prime ministers
of state are said to see the king's face (Esth.
i. 14), as if the strongest angels had the charge of the weakest saints.
2. It bespeaks their continual readiness to minister to the saints. They
behold the face of God, expecting to receive orders from him what to do for
the good of the saints. As the eyes of the servant are to the hand of his
master, ready to go or come upon the least beck, so the eyes of the
angels are upon the face of God, waiting for the intimations of his will,
which those winged messengers fly swiftly to fulfil; they go and return
like a flash of lightning,
Ezek. i. 14. If we would behold the face of God in glory hereafter, as
the angels do (Luke
xx. 36), we must behold the face of God now, in readiness to our duty,
as they do,
Acts ix. 6.