Matthew 18:4
Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(4) Whosoever therefore shall humble himself.—This, then, was the answer to the question “Who shall be the greatest.” The secret of true greatness lay in that unconsciousness of being great, which takes the lowest position as that which of right belongs to it. For a man to “humble himself” with the purpose of attaining greatness would frustrate itself, and reduce humility to an hypocrisy. The “pride that apes humility,” the false lowliness of Colossians 2:18, is even more hateful and contemptible than open self-assertion.

As this little child.—That which was to be the result of a deliberate act in the disciples was found in the child’s nature as it was. They were to make themselves lowly as he was lowly. The transition from the plural to the singular gives an almost dramatic vividness to the form of our Lord’s teaching. We seem to see the child shrinking timidly, with blushing face and downcast eyes, from the notice thus drawn to him.

18:1-6 Christ spoke many words of his sufferings, but only one of his glory; yet the disciples fasten upon that, and overlook the others. Many love to hear and speak of privileges and glory, who are willing to pass by the thoughts of work and trouble. Our Lord set a little child before them, solemnly assuring them, that unless they were converted and made like little children, they could not enter his kingdom. Children, when very young, do not desire authority, do not regard outward distinctions, are free from malice, are teachable, and willingly dependent on their parents. It is true that they soon begin to show other dispositions, and other ideas are taught them at an early age; but these are marks of childhood, and render them proper emblems of the lowly minds of true Christians. Surely we need to be daily renewed in the spirit of our minds, that we may become simple and humble, as little children, and willing to be the least of all. Let us daily study this subject, and examine our own spirits.The greatest ... - That is, shall be the most eminent Christian shall have most of the true spirit of religion.CHAPTER 18

Mt 18:1-9. Strife among the Twelve Who Should Be Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, with Relative Teaching. ( = Mr 9:33-50; Lu 9:46-50).

For the exposition, see on [1323]Mr 9:33-50.

Ver. 2-4. Mark saith, Mark 9:35-37, And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all. And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them, &c. Luke saith only, that he took the child, and set him by him, Luke 9:47; and adds, Luke 9:48, he that is least among you all, the same shall be great. How easy a thing had it been for our Saviour, had the intended any such primacy in the church as the papists contend for, to have said, Peter shall be the greatest! Here was a very fair opportunity for him, if he had pleased, so to have declared his will; but here is not a word of such tendency. Mark saith our Saviour,

1. Sat down, as the manner of their teachers was, when they taught, to denote their authority.

2. He called the twelve, to let them know that what he was about to speak was a grave matter not of a particular but universal concern for them to learn, that, they might teach others.

He said unto them, ( saith Mark), If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all; and (which Luke adds) he that is least among you all, the same shall be great. You would know (saith he) who shall be greatest he that doth not desire to be first; he who is most remote from pride and ambition; he that most contemneth the world, and the priorities and superiorities of it. The proud and ambitious man, he that seeketh great things for himself, shall be of least esteem in my kingdom; he is really least in grace, and ought to be of least esteem and repute among Christians, and he will be the last in the kingdom of glory.

Then he calleth to him a little child: the word doth not always signify a very young child; here it doth, for,

1. He took him in his arms (saith Mark).

2. A young child was the fittest pattern to commend humility to them.

This was an ancient and usual way of teaching, by types, as it were, or patterns: see Jeremiah 19:10 27:2. He reads this lecture upon the child, 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, &c. The prefixing Verily adds much to the authority of this saying. Converted here, stra-fhte, doth not signify the change or conversion of a soul from a state of sin unto God, (so the apostles were already converted), but the turning of their souls from a particular lust or error, into the opposite right way of truth and holiness: except ye repent of your pride and ambition, ye cannot be saved. The next words expound it, and become as little children: not as little children in all things, (which was the Anabaptists’ dream in Germany, upon which they would run about the streets playing with rattles, &c.), but, Matthew 18:4, humbling yourselves as little children.

1. Little children know not what dominion means, and therefore affect it not, are not ambitious.

2. They are not given to boast and glory, and to prefer themselves before others.

3. They are ready to be taught and instructed.

4. They live upon their fathers’ providence, and are not over solicitous.

5. They are not malicious and vindictive. In malice (saith the apostle) be ye children.

The three first are principally here intended. If ye be not thus like little children, ye will be so far from being greatest in the kingdom of God, that you will never come here at all. So as this text teacheth us all,

1. The necessity of humility in order to salvation.

2. That even converted souls have need of a daily conversion. Repentance is a work which will never be perfected till we come to die.

3. How abominable in the eyes of God ambition and pride are in any, especially in ministers of the gospel.

4. That in the church the way to be great is to be humble.

5. That true humility lieth in a mean opinion of ourselves, not minding high things, condescending to men of low estate, not being wise in our own conceits, Romans 12:16; in honour preferring one another, Romans 12:10.

Whosoever therefore shall humble himself,.... Whoever shall entertain mean thoughts of himself, and prefer others to himself, shall behave in a modest humble manner, not affecting dominion over others, or treating his brethren and Christians in a haughty and supercilious manner, with scorn and contempt; but condescend to those of the lowest state, and place himself in the lowest form, conversing with his friends freely and familiarly, without distinction,

as this little child; or any other of the like age; for there is no reason to suppose, that there was anything peculiar in this child, which was not in another, it being common to children to behave towards one another, as on a level; not to envy one another, or to set up one above another, or be vainly elated with the distinctions of birth and fortune.

The same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven; in the Gospel church state; which was verified in the Apostle Paul, though not one of the twelve: nor are these words limited to them; at least, this passage may be illustrated in his case: he thought himself to be the chief of sinners, and less than the least of all saints, and unworthy to be called an apostle; yet had the largest measures of grace, the greatest gifts and abilities; and was honoured with the greatest usefulness and success in the preaching of the Gospel to the conversion of sinners, and planting of churches; labouring more abundantly than they all.

Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Matthew 18:4. Inference from the general principle of Matthew 18:3 to the special child-like quality in which the disciples were deficient, as well as to the special subject of their question. If your entering the future Messianic kingdom at all is determined by your returning again to a child-like frame of mind, then above all must you acquire, through humble self-abasement, the unassuming character of this child, in order to be greater than others in the Messiah’s kingdom.

ὅστις] quicunque; “de individuo, de quo quaerebant, non respondet,” Bengel. In what follows ταπεινώσει is emphatic, and accordingly stands near the beginning of the sentence. Had the subjunctive been critically certain, we should not have had to borrow ἐάν from the second part of the statement (Fritzsche), but rather to observe the distinction in the manner of presenting the idea, according to which the insertion of ἄν marks the presupposition as conditioned. The future assumes the action as actually occurring in the future; while the subjunctive after the relative without ἄν keeps the future realization still within the domain of thought, without, however, conceiving of the realization as conditioned (ἄν). For this usage among Attic prose writers, see Kühner, ad Xen. Mem. i. 6. 13.

Moreover, the words of Matthew 18:3-4, inasmuch as they are essentially connected with the question of the disciples, are certainly original, not an anticipation of Matthew 19:13 ff. (Holtzmann), and dispose us to prefer the account of Matthew to that of Mark or Luke.

Matthew 18:4. ταπεινώσει ἑαυτὸν: the most difficult thing in the world for saint as for sinner. Raphel (Annot. in S. S.) distinguishes three forms of self-humiliation: in mind (Php 2:3), by words, and by acts, giving classical examples of the latter two. It is easy to humble oneself by self-disparaging words, or by symbolic acts, as when the Egyptian monks wore hoods, like children’s caps (Elsner), but to be humble in spirit, and so child-like!—ὁ μείζων. The really humble man is as great in the moral world as he is rare.

4. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself] He who shall be most Christ-like in humility (see Php 2:7-9) shall be most like Christ in glory.

Matthew 18:4. Ὅστις, whosoever) No answer is given concerning the individual whom they inquired about.—οὗτος, this man) sc. he, I tell you.

Verse 4. - Whosoever therefore. This verse gives a direct application of the principle just enunciated, and supplies an answer to the apostles' question. Shall humble himself. Not that a child consciously humbles itself, but is humble by nature. The disciple must become that by deliberate choice which the child is by reason of his constitution and natural disposition. The same is greatest; rather, greater (μείζων), Christ using the same term as the questioners in ver. 1. The more a man annihilates self and casts away pride, conceit, obstinacy, the fitter is he to become a living member of Christ's kingdom. "Quanto humilior, tanto altior," says Thomas Aquinas. But this is a joint work. St. Gregory says well, "The good which a man doeth is both the work of God and the work of man: of God, as being the Author, in giving grace; of man, as being actor, in using grace, yet so that he cooperate with grace by grace" (quoted by Ford, in loc.). Matthew 18:4As this little child

Not, as this little child humbles himself, but, shall make himself humble as this little child is lowly; shall willingly become by spiritual process what the child is by nature.

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