At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?
Becoming like Little Children.
I. The disciples had asked our Lord, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" And the answer which our Lord made, though it did not give them any particular light as to the manner in which the coming of His kingdom should be realized, did yet give them a view of one leading feature of that kingdom, and impressed it upon them in such a manner that they could never forget it. He took a little child, and set it in the midst of them as a pattern and example, and He said, "Except ye be converted"—that is, except ye be altogether turned from your present jealous, ambitious, rivalrous state of mind—"and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven."
II. Now it is obvious that there is much in the character of a little child from which the disciples of our Lord, as ourselves, might learn lessons of great value to their souls: childlike gentleness, teachableness, obedience, truthfulness, purity; in fact, the apparent absence of all the evil qualities and passions, which, though existing in the child's heart in the seed, have not yet become visible. But I apprehend there is one special quality of the mind of a little child which our Saviour intended principally to hold forth in the text, and this is its unconsciousness of any dignity belonging to it or to its actions. "Whosoever shall humble himself," says our Lord, "as this little child."
III. The lesson which the disciples were chiefly intended to learn is not without its value for ourselves; for it points out to us (1) the manner in which we are to walk along the narrow way which leads to life, ever pressing towards the mark, looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, without looking upon other things, and without comparing ourselves with others who are striving for the same crown. (2) Imitate little children in the matter of the relation in which your reason stands to your faith. God reveals to you that which you could never have found out for yourselves, and which therefore it becomes you to receive at His hands humbly and thankfully. If we first receive God's revelation with a little child's humility, and when we have received it, walk with a little child's purity and simplicity, then we shall be able to grow in the knowledge of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, until we come to that blessed state in which we shall know even as we are known.
Bishop Harvey Goodwin, Parish Sermons, 2nd series, p. 310.
References: Matthew 18:1-4.—H. Ward Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 298. Matthew 18:1-10.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 151. Matthew 18:1-14.—A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, p. 200; Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. iii., p. 40. Matthew 18:2.—J. Keble, Sermons for Saints' Days, p. 77.
Matthew 18:2-3Christian Innocence.
When our Lord took a child, and set it in the midst of the disciples, and made its face the answer to their question, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" nay, even told them they could not enter into the kingdom of heaven unless they were converted and became as that child, he certainly laid them and us under a very serious obligation to inquire what it is in this image which He loved, and after which He would mould us.
I. The purity and innocence of any human creature are not and cannot be his own; we are only innocent so far as we claim nothing of our own, so far as we look out of ourselves, so far as we forget ourselves in another. The reverence for unconsciousness, the almost worship of childhood, are nothing else than a silent homage to this doctrine. And the protest against mere unconsciousness, the desire we feel that a child should grow into a distinct living person, the conviction we have that the command, "Know thyself," does descend from heaven, even when obedience to it seems sometimes to bring us to the very brink of hell,—this also is a witness in behalf of the same doctrine. For how can there be any giving up of self if there is not a self to give up? How can a man cease from his own works and his own strivings if there is nothing working and striving within him which he has to cease from?
II. All attempts to make ourselves innocent by putting ourselves into a regulated atmosphere, and trying to bar out the intrusion of evil; all attempts to cut ourselves off from sinners, lest they should defile us; all treatment of other men's evils as if they were not our own, must be fatal to the acquisition of Christ's innocence, the only innocence which God knows anything of. On the other hand, it is contradicting Scripture, and reason, and experience to say that those who have been most stained with outward and inward defilements may not receive the gift of innocency in its fullest measure. "Thou shalt purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean," was the confident and well-grounded assurance of a man upon whose conscience lay the burden of adultery and murder. Let men frame what notions they may about baptismal purity, the sacrament of the Lord's Supper witnesses that the sin-stricken man, who has discerned that he never had and never can have anything righteous in himself, may become altogether childlike and spotless when he turns from himself and seeks for fellowship with Him in whom is no sin.
F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. i., p. 82.
Reference: Matthew 18:2, Matthew 18:3.—J. W. Burgon, Ninety-one Short Sermons, No. 10.
Matthew 18:3I. The expression "converted" is one requiring careful examination; with the simple Greek word faithfully rendered, our text would be, "Except ye be turned." It appears, then, that men must be turned, or they cannot enter into Christ's heavenly kingdom. This first implies that they are, before such turning takes place, proceeding in a direction which will not lead them to that kingdom. We are all, when Christ's Gospel meets with us, proceeding in a direction averse from that which is our highest interest, the salvation of our body, soul, and spirit, in a glorious and eternal state. We are seeking the lower welfare of the animal soul, not the higher welfare of the immortal spirit. The direction of our path must be changed; we must be turned.
II. Of what sort is this turning? It is plain that it is not any partial change in the outward life, not any polishing and rounding of the circumference of a man's character, but a changing of the centre itself, a change thorough and complete. It is not the opinions alone which are in question here; the desires are changed also. From having no mind to God, no eye to eternity, the desire after Him is awakened, and things invisible and eternal assume their proper place of prominence.
III. Consider the manner of the change. The turning is not the work of an instant. However rapid the thaw, the thick-ribbed realm of ice will not melt away but by degrees. However complete the renewal at last, there is an inertia to be overcome, an impulse to be communicated and to gather force, before the whole mass will obey the moving hand, in the spiritual as well as in the material world. There is no reason to question, but every reason to believe, that here as elsewhere the miracle is the exception, the ordinary agency by secondary means the rule; that conversion is not in the generality of cases the sudden, well-defined event which it is represented to be, but the gradual accruing result of the teaching and operation of the Spirit, working through the common every-day means of grace.
H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. iii., p. 67.
I. Man was made for God. He made us to behold Him; beholding, to reflect Him; reflecting Him, to be glorified in Him. He willed, evermore, to shine on into our souls, to be the light of our souls, that we might see all things truly by His light. He willed to make us holy, that we might be little pictures of Himself, and that He might dwell with good pleasure upon us, as a father's soul rests with joy and love upon the child of his love. From this we fell by sin; to this God willed to restore us in Christ. Sin was to choose, against God's will, something instead of God. In whatever way the change may be wrought, a change there must be. God is the Lord, the Father, the centre of the soul, The soul must turn wholly to Him for its life, its light, its peace, its joy, its resting-place, all good to it, all goodness in it. As the flower follows the sun, opens itself to its glow, and through that glow sends forth its fragrance and ripens its fruit, so the soul must turn to Him, the Sun of righteousness, unfold itself wholly to His life-giving glow, hide nothing from His searching beams, and through the fire of His love ripen to Him the fruits of His Spirit.
II. Conversion to God is not a mere ceasing from some sin when the temptation ceases. It is not a breaking off from outward sin, while the heart enjoys the memory of it, and enacts it again in thought. Conversion is not a passing emotion of the soul, nor is it a mere passionate sorrow or remorse. Without ceasing from sin there is no conversion. Yet to cease from sin is not alone conversion; nor is it for the soul only to condemn its own sin. It is to hate, for the love of God, whatever in the soul displeases God; it is to hate its former self for having displeased God; conversion is a change of mind, a change of the heart, a change of the life. The mind, enlightened by the grace of God, sees what once it saw not; the heart, touched by the grace of God and melted by the love of God in Christ Jesus, loves what once it loved not, and the life is changed, because the mind and heart, being changed, cannot endure the slavery to the sins which before they chose; and now they love, for the love of Jesus, to submit and subdue themselves to the love of God, which before they did not endure.
E. B. Pusey, Parochial and Cathedral Sermons, p. 16.
There is something exceedingly touching and full of instruction in the association of the words and acts of our blessed Lord with little children. If the story of redemption had been invented by man, and the Son of God had been described in His incarnate course on earth by mere human imagination, we may well conceive that this would have been otherwise. The mind of the Gospel would have been that of the disciples, who forbade the children to come to Him. Our religion would have been a stern, and forbidding, and restrictive code of morals, not the glorious Gospel of freedom and love.
I. Notice the humility of the child. We may speak with children without danger of wounding their self-esteem; we feel that it ought not to be present, and we act as if it were not. We expect to find in them a natural consciousness of their lowly position, springing from the mere simplicity and meekness of the helpless and inexperienced. Now, in humility the candidate for the kingdom of heaven must be as the little child.
II. The trusting disposition of the child is necessary for the disciple of Christ. Distrust is the offspring of worldly experience. It would be in the highest degree unnatural to find it in the disposition and behaviour of a young child. Our reconciled Father in heaven calls on us to trust Him. He invites us with no double purpose. It is as much a duty to trust God as it is to serve Him.
III. We must be teachable, like little children. The child is willing to learn, ready to receive, apt to lay up what is heard; in ordinary cases, not difficult to persuade, open to truth and to conviction. So must it be with Christ's disciples.
IV. Loving obedience. It is especially the gem and perfection of a child's character to obey. He who knows God, trusts God, is taught by God, and obeys not God is a example of inconsistency difficult to conceive. Never, for a moment, imagine that you can be right in heart towards God, without a life consciously and diligently spent in obeying Him and glorifying Him, and growing up towards a perfect man in Christ under the sanctification of His Spirit.
H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. iii., p. 116.
References: Matthew 18:3.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. ix., p. 335; G. B. Ryley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 154; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xv., p. 338; S. A. Brooke, Church Sermons, vol. i., p. 177; S. Baring-Gould, Preacher's Pocket, p. 52.
These words of the Lord teach us to look upon the life of the Christian as a glorified child-life.
I. As regards its faith. The child has undoubting faith in those who are set over him, in his parents and teachers. Is there any more touching picture than that of a group of children who listen to their father or mother with eager questioning eyes, and receive as gospel every word that falls from those hallowed lips? Even as children believe with unquestioning faith, so we, whom the Son of God has purchased with His precious blood, believe our Lord. Other masters may give their disciples a stone for bread, a scorpion for an egg; the word of our Lord is evermore the bread of our lives, whether we understand its full meaning or not. He who has learned this childlike faith in his Saviour is like a man who sails out of the broad sea into a sheltered haven.
II. As regards its love. The love of the child is without partiality. Let there be only a human eye, a human face, and the child will smile to greet it; the child of the prince will clasp the hand of the beggar. And may we not say that we Christians love all men without distinction, with a childlike love? To us, also, every human face is holy, but we are better off in this respect than the child; for the child loves not always wisely. His love is blind, even as his faith is ignorant. But we in whose heart the Spirit of the Lord has implanted this love for men can read on every human brow this inscription, this solemn writing, which makes every human countenance sacred: God "hath made of one blood all nations of the earth,... that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him, though He be not far from every one of us."
III. As regards its hope. The child's hope knows no boundary. He sees no thorns in the present, and so he can enter deep into the flowery life which he sees around him, and looking out into the future, he sees the flowers of the present blooming still. The grace of Christ offers to all Christians what is most lovely in the life of the child—its faith, its love, and its hope. And it offers these things transformed and glorified. The hope of the Christian is not the careless hope of the child; he knows why he hopes. Christians are children of hope, because they believe in Christ, who, as the Apostle says, is in them, "the hope of glory." Through the mercy of God, they are born again unto a lively hope.
F. A. Tholuck, Predigten, vol. iii., p. 284.
Matthew 18:4I. Notice the expression, "Whosoever shall humble himself"—it is not be humble—"Whosoever shall humble himself." It implies a process, and then a victory; it recognizes and presupposes a state of pride; it declares humility not a gift, but an attainment, not by nature, but by grace. And this humility is as much better than a natural humility as the grace of God is better than a man's own disposition, or as holiness is superior to innocence.
II. How shall we cultivate it? (1) Be sure that you are loved. We are all inclined to be proud to those whom we think do not like us, and we all can stoop to anything for those of whom we are fond, and of whom we believe they are fond of us. Therefore the first root of humility is love. (2) Realize yourself the object of great mercy. Take your sorrows as a proof of remembrance, and all your blessings as each a mark of an individual favour to you; for this will endear God to you. (3) Be more reverential in your religion, because, if once you can establish the relationship of a true humility to God, it will not be very difficult to go on to be humble to man. He who has once felt as a child to His heavenly Father will be ready to be a child to every one. (4) Do acts of humility. For act feeds feeling as much as feeling nourishes act. God will mark His approbation of acts like these by increasing in you the humility which dictates them, and for the sake of which you have done them.
J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 7th series, p. 235.
Matthew 18:6I. The Christian home is an instrument of incalculable power for drawing forth and presenting in their full form and force all those ministering qualities and energies by which, in all ages, society is blessed and saved. But it has a further, deeper, and larger power. It can touch the life of society at the very spring, and renew it. "Suffer little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not," says Christ: "for of such is the kingdom of God." Had the Church understood the words of the Master, and in that mind undertaken the training of these little ones, we should not now be sighing and crying for the signs of the kingdom of heaven among men.
II. The root of the mischief—the fundamental cause of the failure of the Church to make the Gospel the power which God intended it to be in the spiritual education of mankind—is to be found in a radical misconception of the function of the Church. It has sought to rule in His name; it was set to witness to His truth. God has been systematically presented to the mind of Christendom, and of course to the youth of Christendom, and its homes, as the Ruler, the Lawgiver, the Judge, rather than as the Father; and the Church has been more prompt to wield authority than to minister and save. It is not too much to say that the chief trust of Christendom has been in law, as a power superior to love, in rebuking and destroying that sin from which man must be saved or perish. Never forget that the first, the fundamental principle of a Christian education is the surrounding the young spirit, in the very cradle of its higher life, with the witness that it is born into the Father's home, and that it has a right, in all its struggles, its sufferings, and its sins, to claim the Father's pity, to cry for the Father's help, and to rest on the Father's will and power to save.
III. A second great principle of Christian culture, which the Church has failed to grasp and to wield as a power, is this: Christ bids us remember that men have to be trained here for the universe and eternity, and that the training must begin in the home, if it is to bear any blessed and lasting fruit. "A man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth," said the Master. "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word which proceedeth out of the mouth of God." How much of our education of our children has respect exclusively to the question, What kind of training will most largely and swiftly pay? And our thought concerns not what it will pay the man as an immortal being, with eternity before him to work out the great plan of his existence.
J. Baldwin Brown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 392.
References: Matthew 18:6.—T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. ii., p. 48; F. Wagstaff, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xix., p. 409.
Matthew 18:7If there is any work in the world which peculiarly deserves the name of the work of the devil, it is the hindrance which men sometimes put in the path in which their fellow-creatures are called by God to walk. Of all the temptations which surround us in this world of temptations, the most difficult, in almost all cases, to deal with, are those which our fellowmen cast in our way.
I. The most glaring form of the sin of tempting others is that of persecuting and ridiculing the conscientious. It is almost always easy to find means for doing this. Every one who endeavours to live as God would have him is sure to lay himself open to ridicule, if nothing worse. There is mixed up with our very best actions quite enough of weakness, of folly, of human motives, of human self-seeking, to give a good handle to any one who seeks for a handle, and supply materials for a bitter jest, for a scoff, not quite undeserved. How easy it is to ridicule the imperfect virtue, because it is imperfect; how easy, and yet how wicked!
II. Are Christians quite safe from doing this great and sinful mischief? I fear not. (1) In the first place, Christians are not exempt from the common failing of all men, to condemn and dislike everything which is unlike the ordinary fashion of their own lives. (2) Again, Christians are quite as liable as other men to be misled by the customs of their own society, and to confound the laws that have grown up among themselves with the law of God. (3) Again, Christians are very often liable, not, perhaps, to put obstacles in the way of efforts to do right, so much as to refuse them the needful help without which they have little chance of succeeding. (4) Again, Christians are quite as liable as any to give wrong things untrue names, and to take away the fear of sin by a sort of good-natured charity towards particular faults. (5) Lastly, Christians are liable to that which is the common form of tempting among those who are not Christians; not to persecute or ridicule what is right, but to seek for companions in what is wrong. They are tempted, whenever sin is too powerful for their wills, to double it by dragging others with them on the same path.
Bishop Temple, Rugby Sermons, 1st series, p. 166.
I. The little child is the hero of Christ's panegyric in the context. The little child is the type of the citizen of God's kingdom. Its simplicity, its innocence, its frankness, its trustfulness are the badges of civic privilege in the heavenly polity. And as the little child is the subject of the encomium in the context, so is it also the occasion of the warning in the text. It is the stumbling-block placed in the way of Christ's little ones that calls down the denunciation of woe. We may resent the imputation of a childish nature; we may throw off its nobler characteristics, but its feebler qualities will cling to us still. The category of Christ's little ones is as wide as the Church is wide, as mankind is wide. We are all exposed to the force of some stronger nature than our own—stronger in intellect, or stronger in moral character and definiteness of purpose, or stronger (it may be) in mere passion of temperament, attracting us to the good or impelling us to the evil.
II. Let no man think that he can escape responsibility in this matter. There is some element of strength in all, even the very weakest. It may be superior intellectual power or high mental culture; it may be a wider acquaintance with the world; it may be a greater force of character; it may be more enlarged religious views: in some way or another each man possesses in himself a force which gives him a power over others, and invests him with a responsibility towards Christ's little ones.
III. Against the perils of influence I know of only one security—the purification, the discipline, the consecration of the man's self. Be assured, if there is any taint of corruption within, it will spread contagion without. It is quite impossible to isolate the inward being from the outward. No man can be always on his guard. "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." Each one of us carries about with him a moral atmosphere, which takes its character from his inmost self.
Bishop Lightfoot, Oxford and Cambridge Journal, Oct. 26th, 1876.
Reference: Matthew 18:7.—H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1,579.
Matthew 18:10I. What is meant to be impressed upon us by the text is that in our carelessness about sin and God's service we stand, as it were, alone in creation; that higher beings view with interest every one who is striving to do God's will; that they rejoice over every soul gained over from the cause of evil to the cause of good. We know how worse than indifferent we often are to both these things; that those who are called in the text "little ones," that is, persons with great want of knowledge, and with neither outward circumstances nor force of character to commend them to general notice, but yet really desirous of doing their duty, that these "little ones" we are far from particularly respecting, and farther still from helping them on amidst the difficulties of their way.
II. If we look at what our nature is, and how few set themselves in earnest about renewing it, we may feel quite sure that both we ourselves, and every individual with whom we are acquainted, will meet in the world his share of difficulties and temptations. But let us for ourselves, every one individual amongst us, take heed, for his own personal part, that neither for himself nor for others does he assist in creating these difficulties and temptations. It is a guilt distinct from the general guilt of our own sins in the sight of God, and one which greatly aggravates that. If we lived alone in the world, then our badness would hurt ourselves only; it would be sin, but it would not be what the Scripture calls "offence;" that is, conduct to hurt the souls of others. But we do not live alone; we cannot act independently of others; our good and evil must have an effect upon them; our good must bring forth fruit in the hearts of others also; our sin must contain that other and deeper guilt of tempting or disposing to sin some of God's little ones.
T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iii., p. 193.
References: Matthew 18:10.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 371; A. Mursell, Ibid., vol. xxiv., p. 8; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xiii., p. 136; H. P. Liddon, Three Hundred Outlines on the New Testament, p. 25; G. Matheson, Expositor, 2nd series, vol. vi., p. 370; Bishop Boyd-Carpenter, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 321; M. Dix, Sermons Doctrinal and Practical, p. 40.
Matthew 18:10-14Think of His words, and you will see, first, that Jesus isolates each of us, setting us one by one apart: "despise not one;" He is come to save that one; "if one of them be gone astray;" "not His will that one should perish." He who counts our hairs much more counts us. Next, you will see that Jesus measures the worth of each human being by God's special and separate care of him. "Despise not one," for his angel is before the Father's face. "Despise not one," for the Son is come to save him. Thus, finally, Jesus having isolated each and weighed the worth of each of us, finds us in His Father's sight equal.
I. Notice, also, those two proofs which Jesus gives us of the rare price at which God prizes each soul of His. He singles out the two classes of men whom we set the least store by, and shows how His Father handles them. There are the little ones whom we despise, and there are the lost ones whom we both despise and dislike. The sin of despising the little ones of God falls mainly, perhaps, on the unconverted man, the sin of repelling lost ones mainly on the Church. But to the despised little ones God does honour, for their angels are such as always see His face; to the disliked lost ones God shows love, for to seek them He sends His Son.
II. Notice in what way it is that the teaching of Jesus has cut the roots from that self-valuing or self-praising which leads men, and has always led them, to undervalue and despise others. I may seek to sober man's conceit by showing man's littleness at his best, by reminding him how human greatness turns to dust, and how, in spite of wealth, or birth, or fame, or wisdom, men are but poor things while they live, and being dead are equal in their graves. This is the moralist's way; it is not Christ's. No word, scornful or sad, drops from His mouth to lower the dignity or to lessen the worth of the nature He had chosen to wear. He comes to put our self-esteem on its true footing. It is not what is peculiar to you or me which makes either of us precious to God; it is what is common to us all. God is no respecter of persons, but He respects men. We are greater than we thought, but it is a greatness in which we share alike. Because we are men, with a separate personality like God's, with a separate responsibility to God, with an immortal capacity for personal fellowship with God, therefore we are, each of us, creatures of uncountable value, on whom angels may deem it no indignity to wait, and for whom God's Son will not grudge to die.
J. Oswald Dykes, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 307; see also Sermons, p. 219.
Reference: Matthew 18:11.—H. Bushnell, Christ and His Salvation, p. 57-
Matthew 18:12I. Look at the figure of the one wanderer. (1) All men are Christ's sheep. All men are Christ's, because He has been the Agent of Divine creation, and the grand words of the hundredth Psalm are true about Him, "It is He that hath made us, and we are His; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture." They are His because His sacrifice has bought them for His. Erring, straying, lost, they still belong to the Shepherd. (2) Notice next the picture of the sheep as wandering. The straying of the poor half-conscious sheep may seem innocent, but it carries the poor thing away from the shepherd as completely as if it had been wholly intelligent and voluntary. Let us learn the lesson. In a world like this, if a man does not know very clearly where he is going he is sure to go wrong. If you do not exercise a distinct determination to do God's will, and to follow in His footsteps who has set us an example, and if your main purpose is to get succulent grass to eat and soft places to walk in, you are certain, before long, to wander tragically from all that is right, and noble, and pure.
II. Look at the picture of the Seeker. In the text God leaves the ninety and nine, and goes into the mountains where the wanderer is, and seeks him. And thus, couched in veiled form, is the great mystery of the Divine love, the incarnation and sacrifice of Jesus Christ our Lord. Not because man was so great; not because man was so valuable in comparison with the rest of creation—he was but one amongst ninety and nine unfallen and unsinful—but because he was so wretched, because he was so small, because he had gone away so far from God; therefore the seeking love came after him, and would draw him to itself.
A. Maclaren, A Year's Ministry, 2nd series, p. 267.
Reference: Matthew 18:12.—R. C. Trench, Notes on the Parables, p. 373.
Matthew 18:14Nothing impresses us so much with God's inexhaustible love in creation as tracing it into its minute provisions, and searching for its arrangements which escape the common sight of men. However we may fail to reach the extent of that love of creation, one lesson is powerfully impressed upon every reasonable being by such appearances—that it is not the will of our Creator that one of the least of His creatures should perish. Where the farthest and smallest rillets are pure the fountain must be pure also. The creative mind of God is love.
I. When we speak of God's creative love we must infer that human effort is included in that creative love; that when our Creator declared it to be His will that His creatures should not perish He took into account the powers which he bestowed on man. In creation God has ordained that we should be workers together with Him, in carrying out His beneficent purposes.
II. From the world of matter let us pass upwards to the world of spirit. This, too, is God's creation. And here likewise His creative love is equally visible. But here, again, as in creative, so in redemptive love, God distinctly takes into account and weaves into His purposes the agency and diligence of His people. Without man, it is His ordinance that His earth remain unfilled, and bring not forth bread to the eater; without man, it is equally His ordinance that spiritual culture shall not take place. We should never, in creation, providence, or grace, sever the love of God from that which it involves, our own most earnest striving together with Him in the direction of that love; every thwarting and making void of God's love is against ourselves, not against Him. If the husbandman, through idleness or wilfulness, till not his ground, though others so far lose, he is the chief sufferer; if a church, or a family, or an individual work not together with God in His will that none should perish, there may be general loss ensuing, but that church, that family, that man shall bear the chief burden to all eternity.
H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. iv., p. 257.
Consider the love of God for little children. It is—
I. A love of utter unselfishness.
II. A love of delight in them.
III. A love of compassion towards them.
IV. A love of trust in the almost infinite capacities of children.
T. Gasquoine, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xii., p. 389.
References: Matthew 18:14.—H. M. Butler, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xviii., p. 241; see also Harrow Sermons, p. 230; C. Garrett, Loving Counsels, p. 161. Matthew 18:15-20.—A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, p. 209. Matthew 18:15-35.—Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. iii., p. 49.
Matthew 18:19-20I. When we consider the great promises which are made to prayer, and particularly the great blessing attached to public worship which the words of the text imply; when we consider, moreover, how sacred and almost Divine the prayers of the Church are, and how these prayers themselves are almost in a manner sanctified, and made more acceptable by the holiness of the places in which we meet together, it is surely a matter greatly worthy of inquiry how it is that Christians in general derive so little benefit from the prayers of the Church, in comparison with what they might in all reason be expected to do. Doubtless the reason is because persons come to church without consideration; they neither think of God nor seriously concerning themselves.
II. It may, indeed, be almost impossible for any one to shut out the world from his thoughts when he comes to church, if he is very much taken up with it at other times; but then when he finds that he is not able to pray on account of wandering thoughts, this ought to remind him that he is in a dangerous and bad way, that there is something wrong in his way of going on. For he may be quite sure if his mind is too distracted to wait upon God, that he is serving another master. It is evident that our prayers depend upon our manner of life. No one can express wants he does not feel, but he who most feels his want of assistance from God will be sure to pray aright.
III. We cannot doubt but that the words of the text do contain a great and assured truth that, over and above the usual and sure benefits of prayer, where two or three are gathered together in the church, there Christ is in the midst of them, in some mysterious and life-giving manner beyond understanding—present to hear their prayers, present with Divine power to bless them and give them His peace. According as any man lives, so does he pray, and as far as he lives aright he will pray aright; and by prayer—serious and devout prayer—men are brought into some mysterious nearness to the Almighty God; they feel beneath them and around them the everlasting arms.
Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. i., p. 206.
References: Matthew 18:19.—E. M. Goulburn, Thoughts on Personal. Religion, p. 132; J. Thomas, Catholic Sermons, vol. ii., p. 109. Matthew 18:19, Matthew 18:20.—Parker, Cavendish Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 245.
Matthew 18:20Christ with Us.
I. In considering this subject, we must bear in mind that the human nature of our blessed Lord and Master must be subject to those laws of nature which He, as God, hath ordained and decreed. The human nature, being a created nature, cannot be omnipresent; nor is this asserted. But the omnipresence of His human nature is not implied in the promise of our text, although its presence in various places is. It is a presence promised to His Church and people wherever they may be; but this is to be distinguished from that universal presence of the Absolute which is a mystery incomprehensible by the intellect of the creature.
II. Had our Lord remained upon earth, His presence could have been vouchsafed to only a few. When he commissioned His Apostles he breathed upon them, but the breathing of grace is requisite on every soul that it may live, and for that reason our Lord was elevated and placed on His throne of glory. He ascended to that place in the kingdom of heaven, that from thence, the Day-star on high, he might pour down the rays of grace, and through them be present wherever two or three are gathered together in His name.
III. The beams that flow down from the Sun of righteousness are not created beams; they are the sanctifying influences of God the Holy Ghost. Only let us remember that when by the mighty operations of God the Holy Ghost a new light dawns upon the understanding, and a new warmth glows in the heart, and a new power is given to the will, and a new tenderness softens the conscience, and a new creature rises from the putrefying mass of human corruption, susceptible of holy impressions and capable of spiritual affections, it is through the medium of the ever-present Saviour, the God-man, our Lord Jesus Christ, that the Spirit of God, sent by the Father, passeth into the hearts of His people, to be their Guide and support, their Sanctifier, their Comforter, their Paraclete.
W. F. Hook, Parish Sermons, p. 253.
References: Matthew 18:20.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx., No. 1761; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xv., p. 140; H. Wace, Expositor, 2nd series, vol. ii., p. 202; B. F. Westcott, The Historic Faith, p. 115; J. B. French, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxi., p. 269; C. Girdlestone, Twenty Parochial Sermons, 1st series, p. 261; G. Huntington, Sermons for Holy Seasons, vol. i., p. 111.
Matthew 18:21I. Today's Gospel has a side of comfort to us. It reminds us—it puts the truth in a way that none can possibly mistake—of the largeness, the freeness, of God's forgiveness. "He loosed him, and forgave him the debt." He forgives us from day to day and from hour to hour, and He is not afraid to tell us beforehand—nay, He presses on us as the great hope of our continual repentance and ultimate strength, that we may count upon His forgiveness.
II. But the parable has also its side of warning. "Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow-servant, even as I had pity on thee?" Our Lord is not speaking at the moment of the attitude of human authority towards offenders against law. Nor, again, is He speaking directly of the duty of judging gently the wrong-doings of others. What our Lord is speaking of in this parable is the forgiveness of personal wrongs to ourselves. The lesson of forgiveness begins in repentance, in the new, unselfish, humble heart, which we learn at the cross of Christ.
E. C. Wickham, Wellington College Sermons, p. 196.
References: Matthew 18:21, Matthew 18:22.—R. D. Rawnsley, Village Sermons, 2nd series, p. 246. Matthew 18:21-35.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 468.
Matthew 18:21-22You will not find a single saying of Christ which has any approach to a maxim of morality, or which draws near to a limited opinion on the subjects which belong to religious life, or thought, or feeling. There is nothing He ever said which is to be taken literally, nothing which is not said within the region where the pure imagination is imperial master. Here is an instance in His talk with Peter. Peter wanted a literal statement as to the duty of forgiveness, its practice and its limits. Christ said, "Until seventy times seven." His answer meant there is no limit to forgiveness between man and man.
I. The text speaks of personal forgiveness, not of social or judicial forgiveness. Nor, again, does it tell us to make a man aware that we forgive a wrong done to ourselves unconditionally. There is a condition—that is repentance. We should forgive, be in the loving temper of forgiveness, and that always, but we cannot, with any regard to justice, make that forgiveness known unless there is some sorrow for the wrong.
II. Peter's notion of personal forgiveness was that there was a certain time when we were to stop. It is a plausible view, but a tree is known by its fruits, and its results will tell us whether Peter's notion was right. (1) The first result is hardness of heart. When we cease to forgive, still more when we make it a duty to cease, the temper of forgiveness in us lessens, decays, and finally dies. (2) And the temper of forgiveness is the temper of mercy, pity, and love. With its loss, all these three beautiful sisters are also lost, die, and are buried in our heart. (3) When these three sisters are dead we have no guard against the evils which they oppose.
III. Try Christ's view, too, by its results. (1) We gain moral power in a beautiful thing, and inward joy in it. (2) Having, through this habit of forgiveness, brought love, mercy, and pity as living presences into the soul, they establish rule in it over the evil passions of hatred, envy, revenge, jealousy, and anger, and finally end by slaying them and burying them in the heart. (3) The soul that forgives first learns to love, and secondly spreads a spirit of love.
S. A. Brooke, The Spirit of the Christian Life, p. 67.
Reference: Matthew 18:21, Matthew 18:22.—T. Keble, Sermons for Sundays after Trinity, part ii., p. 320; A. J. Griffith, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxii., p. 22. Matthew 18:21-35.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 213; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 421; R. C. Trench, Notes on the Parables, p. 150.
Matthew 18:23-35The Unmerciful Servant. The key-notes of this parable are to be found at the beginning and end. It was spoken in order to show that a man should set no limit to the forgiveness of injuries; and in order to show this, the parable goes into the deep things of God. It shows that the motive power which can produce in man an unlimited forgiveness of his brother is God's mercy forgiving himself. At the close it lays down the law that the act or habit of extending forgiveness to a brother is a necessary effect of receiving forgiveness from God.
I. The practice of forgiving injuries. The terms employed indicate clearly enough that the injuries which man suffers from his fellow are trifling in amount, especially in comparison of each man's guilt in the sight of God. There is a meaning in the vast and startling difference between ten thousand talents and a hundred pence.
II. The principle of forgiving injuries. Suppose that the methods for practice are accurately laid down, where shall we find a sufficient motive? From an upper spring in heaven the motive must flow; it can be supplied only by God's forgiving love, on us bestowed, and by us accepted. When, like little closed vessels, we are charged by union with the Fountain-head, forgiving love to erring brothers will burst spontaneously from our hearts at every opportunity that opens in the intercourse of life. But there is more in the connection between receiving and bestowing forgiveness than can be expressed by the conception of yielding to the pressure of a motive. It is not only obedience to a command enjoined; it is the exercise of an instinct that has been generated in the new nature. The method in which this and other graces operate is expressed by an Apostle thus: "It is no more that I live, but Christ that liveth in me." When Christ is in you He is in you not only the hope of glory, but also the forgiving of an erring brother.
W. Arnot, The Parables of Our Lord, p. 185.
References: Matthew 18:23.—C. Kingsley, The Water of Life, p. 278; J. M. Neale, Sermons for Children, p. 31. Matthew 18:23-35.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. vi., p. 175; A. B. Bruce, Parabolic Teaching of Christ, p. 401. Matthew 18:28.—H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, The Life of Duty, vol. ii., p. 190. Matthew 18:32.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. x., p. 138. Matthew 18:32, Matthew 18:33.—F. W. Robertson, The Human Race and other Sermons, p. 278.
Matthew 18:33Forgiveness: one Law for Lord and Servant. This is a parable to show us that our life must be a repetition of the life of God. It is not a title to a mansion in the skies, nor even possession of that, which can make us Christians. It is possession of God's life. We are to be perfect, even as our Father in heaven is perfect. We are to forgive, even as God forgives, and to be compassionate, as He is compassionate.
I. Our Lord had been talking of discipline, of giving and forgiving offences; and Peter put the question to Him, "How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?" The answer of the Lord, folded up in this parable, is, "As often as God forgives you."
II. The second lesson fills out and completes the first. It was not simply because he did not resemble his lord that the servant was condemned. It was also because he would not resemble him. But that implies that he had the ability to resemble him; and the parable makes plain to us that he did possess this ability. The whole scope of the parable goes to show that the lord's purpose in remitting the ten thousand talents was the bestowal of this power to forgive. And therefore I put the second lesson of the parable into this shape: God's mercy to us is to be a spring of mercy in us to others. We are receivers mainly that we may be givers. We are ourselves forgiven that we may in turn forgive.
III. The third lesson is, We must take the entire gift or lose all. The entire gift of the king was something more than forgiveness. It was also a forgiving heart. If we shut out mercy from our hearts, if we from our hearts forgive not, we shall by mercy be ourselves shut out. Pardon of our sins is not salvation: there must be life as well as pardon. We live only when God's life has become ours. And our life grows spiritually only as we practise the life of God. If we do not open our hearts to it, or if, having opened our hearts, we do not follow its leadings, we fall back into a deeper condemnation.
A. Macleod, Days of Heaven upon Earth, p. 100.
References: Matthew 18:35.—C. Girdlestone, A Course of Sermons, vol. ii., p. 445; R. Heber, Parish Sermons, vol. ii., p. 337. Matthew 19:1-26.—A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, p. 251. Matthew 19:11.—J. E. Vaux, Sermon Notes, 4th series, p. 88. Matthew 19:13.—Parker, Hidden Springs, p. 342. Matthew 19:13-15.—P. Robertson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xv., p. 37.
And Jesus 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.
And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 heaven.
For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.
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?
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.
Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.
Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.
Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.
And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.
But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.
The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.
But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.
And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.
So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.
Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me:
Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?
And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.
So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.