At the same time came the disciples to Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?
To discuss in the abstract the question who shall be greatest in the kingdom of heaven, is a profitable employment. But when discussed with personal reference, and in view of present competing claims, there must inevitably be jealousies and rivalries, vanity and hatred. That his reply might lodge in their minds, and be audible to all generations, our Lord gives it dramatically. He calls a little child to him, perhaps one of Peter's children. "Here," says he, "is the one excellence on which my kingdom is founded, and by which alone it can be extended - the excellence of not knowing you have any excellence at all." It was, in short, a true humility - an humility that did not know itself to be humility, and. was thereby humble. To become humble is a change that must be wrought upon you while yourself unconscious; it is like a new birth. A man feels that of all things this is beyond him. We cannot humble ourselves to serve a purpose; if we do so our humility cannot be genuine. Look at one or two instructive features of childhood.
1. What delights us in children is very much their inability to conceal their thoughts, their artless love, their general simplicity. "They are naked, and not ashamed;" assume no disguise, because they are unconscious of the need of any.
2. Their ready belief in everything they are told. The child hears of the world and its wonders with a reverential awe. As we grow older we clothe ourselves in scepticism, and guard ourselves against deception, till, as the climax of wisdom and safety, we believe nothing, and are like the heavy-mailed knights of old, stifled in our own armour. We train our spirits to believe in nothing but the most obvious commonplace physical things, which by their own nature are destined to decay. And the end is, we cannot, if we would, believe in the most tremendous realities. Well may we pray that God would dip us in the waters of his regeneration, that so the hard, foul crust in which this world encases us may drop off, and our flesh become soft and fresh as a child's again.
3. Their readiness to receive instruction, information, gifts. The whole life of a child is reception. He takes gifts naturally, and without distressing himself as to his right to them. He is to be fed because he is hungry, made happy because his nature craves it. Whereas we must ever be trying to give to God what will satisfy him. But God sells nothing. The highest and best things he has to give we must accept at his hand, simply because we need them, and he is willing to give. In Christ's own life we see this childlike dependence beautifully exemplified. Clearly apprehending his own position and work, he was yet as one under age. Carrying into manhood the faith of the child, he lived as one who was well cared for, and on whom the care of providing for himself did not rest.
4. It is, above all, the child's unconsciousness that he has anything to commend him that makes him our model. The production of this humility is an invariable and essential accompaniment of conversion. Formerly a man lived on his own strength and for himself. Now he feels he is not his own, but God's; born of God, kept by God, for God's uses, beginning from God and ending in God. In presence of that Being, glorious in holiness and love, he abhors his own sensual and selfish life, and abases himself utterly. He has no claims to urge, no promises to make, no pretensions, nothing at all to show. What this child seemed to say to these helpless disciples, he says to all - You must turn, you must strive with your whole souls, you must pray, but convert yourselves you cannot; it is God only can give you a new heart. Have you been brought to a true dependence on God, so feeling the guilt of your past life and the evil of your natural character that you can but leave yourself in the hand of God and his grace for pardon and renewal? - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?