Matthew 18:1
Jesus Christ not only resorted to parables in order to make his teaching vivid; sometimes he made use of object lessons. Thus he answered the question as to who was greatest in the kingdom of heaven by pointing to the little child whom he had called to himself, and set up in the midst of his disciples. The child himself was a visible embodiment of the reply our Lord wished his questioners to receive.

I. THE TYPE OF THE KINGDOM. The kingdom of heaven is the kingdom of the childlike. When we look on a little child we see a typical citizen of that glorious kingdom. Let us consider what there is in childlikeness to be thus representative. We must approach this subject from the ground from which Christ and his disciples came to it. The question of primacy being in the minds of the disciples some contrast to their feelings and dispositions is vividly suggested by the sight of the simple, unconscious, unworldly child.

1. Unambitious simplicity. This would be the first impression produced by the sight of the child, when suddenly he was called by Jesus to confront self-seeking ambition. Even if we may believe that there was no self-seeking in the minds of the disciples, and that their inquiry was general, not personal, still the spirit of ambition was roused by it. But the little child does not possess ambition. The subtle calculations by which men scheme for pre-eminence are all unknown to him. He is pre-eminent without knowing it. They are the least of their own sanctity.

2. Unworldliness highest saints who think The little child is quite unconventional. He knows nothing of the ways of the world. Of course, it is not desirable to imitate his defects, to go back to childish ignorance. But knowledge is dearly bought when it is acquired at the cost of spirituality. Wordsworth tells us that heaven lies about us in our childhood.

3. Trustfulness. The child came to Jesus as soon as he was called. A look of the Saviour was enough to dispel fear. We need the innocent confidence of the child to come into right relations with Christ.


1. The entrance. The disciples had forgotten this. Busying themselves about the rank of those who were in the kingdom, they neglected to consider how to enter it. Yet this is the first question, and all else is unpractical till this step has been taken. But when it has been taken, all else becomes unimportant. It is everything to be privileged to enter the kingdom, even though in its lowest region. Moreover, the true citizen of the kingdom will have lost the ambition that busies itself about questions of pre-eminence.

2. The turning. We are all selfish and self-seeking until we learn to repent and take a better course. No one can enter the kingdom of lleaven while he remains worldly and ambitious. The very spirit which seeks a first place in the kingdom excludes from the kingdom. We need grace to turn back to childlikeness. We must be converted into little children. The greed and ambition must be taken out of our hearts, and the simplicity, unworldliness, and trust of the child received in place of those ugly attributes. - W.F.A.

Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?
I. THE OCCASION OF THIS QUESTION. The payment of the tribute money (Matthew 17.) They might have learnt from hence humility and obedience to princes, though tyrants exacting that which is not due; and a willingness to part with their right rather than to offend. But prejudice makes Christ's humility an occasion of evil. Some of the Fathers were of opinion that the disciples, when they saw Peter joined with Christ in this action of the tribute, did imagine that he was preferred before them. The true explanation is that "We trusted that this had been he" (Luke 24:21). Can Christ do this, and thus submit Himself? Can He be a king that thus pays tribute. This, instead of teaching the disciples humility, foments their pride.

II. THE PERSONS THAT MOVE THE QUESTION — "The disciples." The disciples had been instructed that the kingdom of Christ was not of this world, yet conceit shut their understanding against the truth. "Ambition finds a pillow to sleep on even in the bosom of disciples themselves." Satan makes snares of our own desires. He maketh curious nets, entangles our fancy, and we straight dream of kingdoms. "Who shall be greatest?" They are not always the worst men that put this question.

1. And this we need not much marvel at, if we consider the nature of this vice. It is a choice vice, preserved by the devil to abuse the best; this weed only grows in a fat soil, Base natures seldom bear it. What cares the covetous person for honour, who will bow to dirt?

2. It is a vice to which the world is much beholden, and therefore finds more countenance than any. Ambition has been productive of the world's chiefest books and deeds.

3. It is a vice which amongst many men hath gained the reputation of virtue. It is the kindler of industry.Inferences: —

1. Prejudice kept the disciples so long from the true knowledge of the Messias who had been so long with them. Prejudice puts out the eye of our judgment. So dangerous was it to the disciples that no words or miracles could root it out; not till the fiery tongues consumed it (Acts 2:2, 3).

2. Since the devil made use of this error of the disciples, and attempted them where they were most open to him, let us as wise captains used to do, double our watch, and strengthen our weakest part. If the disciples leave all and follow Christ, he will tempt them with honour.

3. Let us not seek the world in the Church, nor honours and preferments in the kingdom of Christ. Let us not fit religion to our carnal desires, but lay them down at the foot of religion. Let Christianity swallow up the world in victory. Let us clip the wing of our ambition, and the more beware of it because it carries with it the show of virtue.

III. THE QUESTION ITSELF. The disciples were mistaken in the terms of their question, for neither is greatness that which they supposed, nor the kingdom of heaven of that nature as to admit of that greatness which their fancy had set up. In this kingdom Lazarus may be ruler over Dives. The difference between this kingdom and the kingdoms of this world.

1. The subjects of this kingdom are unknown to any but God Himself.

2. Of this kingdom there is no end.

3. The seat of this kingdom is the hearts of the faithful.

4. Their laws are different. It is a common error amongst men to judge of spiritual things by carnal. Goodness is greatness. Let us seek for honour; but seek for it in its own coasts; let us look up to the highest heavens where its seat is.

(A. Farindon, B. D.)

For all mistake is from the eye, all error from the mind, not from the object. If the eye be goggle or misset, if the mind be dimmed with malice or ambition and prejudice, it puts upon things what shape it pleaseth, receiveth not the true and natural species they present, but views them at home in itself, as in a false glass (which renders them back again as it were by reflexion), which is most deceitful. This makes gods and sets up idols in itself, and then worships them. And this is the reason why Christ is so much mistaken, why the gospel of Christ receives such different entertainment. Every man lays hold on it, wrests it to his own purpose, works it on his own anvil, and shapes it to his own fancy and affection.

(A. Farindon, B. D.)

The craft of Satan is various, and his wiles and devices manifold. He knows in what breast to kindle lust, into which to breathe ambition. He knows whom to cast down with sorrow, whom to deceive with joy, whom to shake with fear, and whom to mislead with admiration. He searcheth our affections, he fans and winnows our hearts, and makes that a bait to catch us withal which we most love and most look upon. "He fights," as the father speaks, "with ourselves against ourselves;" he makes snares of our own desires, and hinds and fetters us up with our own love. If he overcome us with his more gross temptations, he insults: but if he fail there, he then comes towards us with those temptations which are better clothed and better spoken. He maketh curious nets, entangles our fancy, and we straight dream of kingdoms. Like a wise captain, he plants all his force and artillery at that place which is weakest and most attemptable. We see the disciples' hearts were here the weakest, and here lay most open: hither therefore the devil directs his darts, here he placeth his engines, to make a breach. So dangerous a vice is ambition; and so hard a thing it is even for good men, for mortified persons, for the disciples of Christ to avoid it!

(A. Farindon, B. D.)

Nothing accrues to a good man when he rises. and comes on in the world; nothing is defalked from him when he falls and decays. The steed is not the better for his trappings; nor doth the instrument yield sweeter music for its carved head, or for the ribbon which is tied unto it.

(A. Farindon, B. D.)

It is but a fancy, and a vain one, to think there is most ease and most content in worldly greatness, or that we sleep best when our pillow is highest. Alas! when our affrighted thoughts shall awake each other, and our conscience put forth her sting; when those sins shall rise up against us, by which we have climbed to this pitch; all the honour of the world will not give us ease.

(A. Farindon, B. D.)

Congregational Pulpit.

1. They did not inquire about character, but persons.

2. They did not perceive the nature of His kingdom.

3. They thought of the crown without the cross.

4. They set up a mistaken claim.

5. They forgot the Saviour's omniscience.


1. It SHOWS a danger.

2. It teaches a necessity.

3. It speaks a privilege.

(Congregational Pulpit.)

I. THE QUESTION. It showed ignorance, pride, selfishness.

II. THE ANSWER. Learn: The way of entrance. The principle of recompense, not merit; not personal worth and greatness. The acknowledgment of unworthiness even to get in at all.

(H. Bonar D. D.)

I. None but the childlike are in the kingdom at all. The entering implies a "conversion," a turning of the back upon the old course of life, and setting the face in the opposite direction.

II. The most childlike are the greatest. That which is most admirable in a Christian man, and the mark of truest greatness, is childlike humility.

III. The childlike are Christ's truest representatives in the world.

(Dr. Culross.)

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