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What seems to have given occasion to this dispute was the distinction which Christ had just shewn to some of his disciples, above the rest; telling Peter that he gave him the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and taking with him Peter, James and John to the mount of transfiguration, while the rest were left behind; these marks of preference excited jealousy in the breasts of the other apostles, and induced them to assert their own claim to pre-eminence; but as they could not settle the value of their respective claims among themselves, they referred the matter to Jesus. By the kingdom of heaven they understood a temporal kingdom, of which the Messiah was to be the prince, and where there were to be various officers under him; and they wished to know who would have the most honourable post; he who first believed in him; who was most closely connected with him by blood; who most frequently entertained him at his house; or who was most advanced in age.
2. And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of
It was usual with teachers in the east to instruct by symbolical actions, or by referring to visible objects: to this latter method Christ has here recourse. The child whom he calls, although very young, was several years old, as he was able to walk, in obedience to his call.
3. And said, Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted, rather, “ except ye turn," and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
The pursuit of honour is not the employment of children, but of men, who have passed the season of youth. Christ would therefore have his disciples to be like children, in modesty and contempt of worldly honours: if they possess not this temper, they are so far
from being entitled to the highest posts in his kingdom, that they will not enjoy the lowest place.
4. Whosoever, therefore, shall humble himself, as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
He who imitates this little child in humility, in thinking modestly concerning himself, in suffering himself to be treated with contempt, without painful mortification, in not eagerly pursuing high tities and external dignities, is a Christian of the first eminence: for he excels others in knowledge; because he justly thinks that true dignity is not founded upon titles and external distinctions; and in virtuous inclinations; because he seeks not a vain glory and perishing honours: he is not himself elated with the titles and honours which he may enjoy, nor does he despise those who want them.
5. And whoso shall receive one such little child, i. e. one resembling a child in disposition, in my name, as my disciple, receiveth me.
To receive a person, in Scripture-language, signifies to entertain him at one's house. As.this was a common instance of benevolence, it is here put for any act of kindness; and Christ declares that whosoever shows
by others, confers a favour upon himself, and shall consequently be rewarded by him. He had in the preceding verse commended the humble; now he commends those who respect them. The dispositions of both are nearly connected: for those who are humble themselves love and admire humility in others; but those who are ambitious of honour respect none exccept those who are distinguished by it.
6. But whoso shall offend, « cause to sin," one of these little ones, these lowly disciples, which believe in me, it were better for him that a milstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned, rather, “should be plunged,” meaning the milstone, in the depth of
To inflict death by fastening a large stone, such as was used for grinding corn in mills, about the neck of the criminal, and throwing it into the sea, was a punishment practised not by the Jews, but by the Syrians and Greeks. To a more grievous evil will he expose himself, in the opinion of Christ, who, by his pride and ambition, shall cause any disciple of Jesus, not sufficiently confirmed in his religion, to abandon it. . Hence Christ takes occasion to warn men in general of the danger of leading others, by any means, to transgress their duty.
7. Woe unto the world because of offences, rather, “ temptations;" for it must needs be that temptations come; but woe to that man by whom the temptation cometh.
I know that such is the depravity of mankind, that men will, by their solicitations or evil actions, tempt others to do wrong. Thiş zeal will prove a dreadful calamity to both parties, but principally to him who is the cause of temptation: for besides committing sin himself, he induces others to do so, and hereby brings upon himself double guilt.
8. Wherefore, if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, “ be leading thee to sin," cut them off, and cast them from thee. It is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather, “lame or with
out a limb,” rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into everlasting fire.
The language of Christ in this verse is proverbial.--By a hand or a foot we are to understand something as dear to us as a hand or a foot, or other member of our bodies. He is exhorting men to free themselves from those things which may tempt them to sin, and his argument, when fully expressed, will stand thus. “As the most valuable members of our bodies are to be cut off, in order to save the rest of the body, how much more reasonable is it to banish from our minds evilinclinations, however dear to us, than, by cherishing them, to expose ourselves to extreme misery!"
9. And if thine eye be leading thee to sin, 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.
The sentiment contained in this verse is exactly the same as was intended to be conveyed by the former; but a fresh comparison is made use of, in order to impress it more strongly upon the mind.
10. Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones, ;. e. any one of
heaven, their angels do always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven.
It was the opinion of the Jews that every good man, if not every man, had a guardian angel, who was continually employed in taking care of him, and in conveying benefits to him. Christ, therefore, who always spoke to the Jews in the way in which he was most likely to be understood by them, has recourse to this notion, to express to them, how much those lowly persons of whom he had been speaking were the objects of divine protection and favour. Their angels, i. e. those appointed to guard them, hold the highest place of honour in heaven: for they are admitted to the presence of God. The phrase, behold the face of my Father, is taken from the custom of kings in the east, who did not permit every one of their officers to see them every dày, but granted this honour to the chief ministers only. To behold the face of a king continually, therefore, is to be his familiar and intimate friend. Hence, to behold the face of God always, comes to signify to enjoy his peculiar favour.
11. For the son of man is come to save that which was lost.
Jesus here mentions another reason why Christians, however little in their own esteem, should not be despised; namely, that God had sent him, the Messiah, to save them; which he would not have done, unless he had thought every individual of great value. By that which was lost we are to understand those who, after the manner of sheep, have wandered. The joy which the Divine Being feels, from recovering only one from this state, Christ illustrates by the following beautiful parable.
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 go into the mountains, and seek 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.