BECOMING AS LITTLE CHILDREN*

[* This short exposition is from writings by D. M. Panton.  I have quoted from the New International Version because it appears to be the translation which is being used in most churches today.].

 

"At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, 'Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?'  He called a little child and had him stand among them.  And He said: 'I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven," Matthew 18: 1-4.

 

Childlikeness, not childishness, is our Lord's model for us. The Apostle Paul safeguards us on the point: "When I was a child, I talked like a child" - ignorantly; " I thought like a child" - erratically; " I reasoned like a child" - with small mental grasp: "When I became a man, I put childish things behind me", (1Cor. 13: 11): "Brothers, stop thinking like childrenIn regard to evil " - impurity - "be infants, but in your thinking be adults," (1 Cor. 14: 20).

 

Our Lord always moved on a background of the infinite.  He takes a lily, and unfolds the petals of the providence of God; He sees the massive stones of the Temple, and He depicts the last earthquakes; and He meets a little child - a lovely little human dew-drop - and at once His thoughts are on those who will "walk with Him in white"; and He revolutionizes the thinking of the Apostles by a revelation which is for all of us, - all of us who are His disciples - grave, (serious, requiring careful consideration,) urgent, vital.  "I tell you the truth, unless you change [repent] and become like little children, you will NEVER ENTER the kingdom of heaven," (Matt. 18: 3).*

 

For our Lord bodily presents our model.  "He called a little child" - old enough to be called, but young enough to be lifted (Mark 10: 16).  Not infants, and not children, but 'little' children; perhaps between the ages of three and seven, are those whom our Saviour gives us as a photograph of kingdom saints. - "and had him stand among them" (Matt. 18: 2): there - if our Lord had never spoken another word - is the greatest: for ever, amongst us for all time, is a mute, living symbol of the enthroned in the Kingdom of God. "For," He says, " the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these" (Matt. 19: 14).  The only record we have of Christ ever embracing anyone is His embrace of a little child; and the child - our model - rests, happily and contented, in the Everlasting Arms.

 

So we ponder a little child.  A little child is perfectly simple, without being a simpleton: it is wide awake, and constantly learning through sense: it is extraordinary open to the truth, and extraordinary sincere: it responds wonderfully to affection: its purity is crystalline: it is exceedingly quick to forgive: it has not the faintest trace of worldly ambition: the thought never enters its head to doubt its father's word: it has an awe of God, and its conscience is singularly tender.  Our Lord does not set a sinless seraph in our midst, or a blazing angel: winsome as childhood is, and tenderly beautiful, it has its waywardness, its tempers, its foolishness: nevertheless such are the Kingdom saints.  God wants the manlike intellect, the childlike heart, and the godlike character and conduct.

 

The Lord closes with the practical.  The Apostles had been grasping for glory on the wrong side of the grave; so He says:- "Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child (the same) is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18: 4).  Satan lost the highest of all created thrones through pride: we can win the highest thrones through humility.  A child is humble; we must become humble; and this attainment, as superior to a child's as holiness is superior to innocence, is within our grasp.  "Whoever HUMBLES HIMSELF" - self-emptied because God-filled: it is possible not only to become great in the Kingdom of God, but greatestHumility, unworldliness, simplicity, teachableness, heart purity must replace jealousy, worldly ambition, pride, and strife: and Lo, the Child is the King!

 

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FOOTNOTE.

 

[* The expression, "The Kingdom of Heaven," (Matt. 18: 3) does not refer (in this context) to the eternal kingdom of God in 'a new heaven and a new earth' (Rev. 21: 1). All who are eternally saved by His grace, accredited with His righteousness and redeemed by His blood, will most certainly enter that kingdom, because they already have eternal life as 'the free gift of God' (Rom. 6: 23, R.V.).  The literal reading from the Greek in Matthew is: "The Kingdom of the Heavens": it is a rule over this earth from 'the heavens': and to attain entrance one must become 'like the angels' - (who serve God in both heavenly and earthly spheres of the kingdom during this evil age.)  Therefore, to be Ďlike the angelsí a future change in us is necessary, by either resurrection or rapture, (Like 20: 35, 36; 1 Cor. 15:50, 51; Luke 21:24-36.).

 

There are various interpretations of the meaning of these words.  For example: A L. Chitwood understands the expression to refer to the heavenly sphere of the kingdom over the earth, where Satan and the fallen angels presently rule.  On the other hand, Robert Govett believes the expression relates to the time when Christís Millennial Kingdom will be established on the earth: "The God of heaven will set up a kingdom ... " etc. (Dan. 2: 44).

 

Both views are taught throughout the Scriptures.  A glance at the prepositions used in Scripture will show Christ ruling 'on' and 'over' this earth during the millennium.  "He will reign ON Davidís throne and OVER his kingdom" (Isaiah 9: 7). "I will come back and take you to BE WITH ME that you also MAY BE WHERE I AM" (John 14: 3). "They - [those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God -  martyrs throughout all ages, as well as those who will be martyred during the Great Tribulation] - came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection" (Rev. 20: 5).]