Jesus Paid It All – Elder Ward
Of the Work of The Holy Ghost in Our Salvation, Book 1 – Chapter 1 – Thomas Goodwin
A general and brief scheme of the whole of that work committed to the Holy Spirit in bringing us to salvation; in an enumeration of all particulars, and of the glory due unto him for it.—The work of the Holy Spirit in the unction of Jesus to be our Saviour.
Some general observations premised out of the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth chapters of St John’s Gospel.
There is a general omission in the saints of God, in their not giving the Holy Ghost that glory that is due to his person, and for his great work of salvation in us, insomuch that we have in our hearts almost lost this third person. We give daily in our thoughts, prayers, affections, and speeches, an honour to the Father and the Son; but who almost directs the aims of his praise (more than in that general way of doxology we use to close our prayers with, ‘All glory be,’ &c.) unto God the Holy Ghost? He is a person in the Godhead equal with the Father and the Son; and the work he doth for us in its kind is as great as those of the Father or the Son. Therefore, by the equity of all law, a proportionable honour from us is due to him. God’s ordination amongst men is, that we should ‘render to all their due, honour to whom honour is due,’ Rom. 13:1. To the magistracy (which there he speaks it of) according to their place and dignity; and this he makes a debt, a due, ver. 8. And the like is enjoined concerning ministers, that are instruments of our spiritual good, that we should ‘esteem them very highly for their work’s sake,’ 1 Thes. 5:13. Let the same law, I beseech you, take place in your hearts towards the Holy Ghost, as well as the other two persons of the Trinity. The Holy Ghost is indeed the last in order of the persons, as proceeding from the other two, yet in the participation of the Godhead he is equal with them both; and in his work, though it be last done for us, he is not behind them, nor in the glory of it inferior to what they have in theirs. And indeed he would not be God, equal with the Father and the Son, if the work allotted to him, to shew he is God, were not equal unto each of theirs. And indeed, no less than all that is done, or to be done in us, was left to the Holy Ghost’s share, for the ultimate execution of it; and it was not left him as the refuse, it being as necessary and as great as any of theirs. But he being the last person, took his own lot of the works about our salvation, which are the last, which is to apply all, and to make all actually ours, whatever the other two had done afore for us. The scope of this treatise is to set forth this work to you in the amplitude of it, to the end you may accordingly in your hearts honour this blessed and holy Spirit. And surely if to neglect the notice and observation of an attribute of God, eminently imprinted on such or such a work of God’s, as of power in the creation, justice in governing the world, mercy in bearing with sinners, grace in our salvation; if this be made so great a sin (Rom. 1) then it must be deemed a greater diminution to the Godhead to neglect the glorifying one of these persons, who is possessed of the whole Godhead and attributes, when he is manifested or interested in any work most gloriously.
The Art of Contentment
I have learned, in what estate soever I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and how to abound: everywhere, in all things, I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me.—Philip. 4:11, 12, 13.
The words are the blessed apostle’s concerning himself, expressing the glorious power of the Spirit of God in a strong and grown Christian, and are to wipe away the imputation of worldliness in the apostle, serving herein also for a pattern to all God’s children, that they may learn by his example that as they must be careful to avoid all blemishes and imputations, so especially that of worldliness, as being most contrary to the profession of a Christian, who hath an ‘high calling,’ and whose ‘hope is in heaven,’ Philip. 3:14.
The Philippians had sent Paul some relief; and lest they should think that he expected great matters, he tells them that he had ‘learned to be content in what estate soever he was.’
It is not amiss sometimes for God’s children to speak of themselves, as Paul here as to other good ends so also to avoid false imputations in the way of just apology,* and likewise to be exemplary to weaker Christians. Is not the doctrine of contentment and the power of grace in all estates better learned by this blessed example of Paul, when he speaks thus of himself, ‘I have learned, in what estate soever I am, to be content: to want, and to abound,’ &c., than if he had weakly said, Be content with your present condition? The Scriptures be intended for practice; and therefore it is that there are so many examples in them, to shew the power of God’s Spirit. This is the end of Paul’s speaking so of himself, ‘I have learned,’ &c.
To come to the words. First, In general he sets down the power of God’s Spirit in him in regard of that blessed grace of contentment. ‘I have learned, in what estate I am, therewith to be content.’
And then he doth parcel out this general into particular conditions in this same state, ‘I know how to be abased, and how to abound.’
And then he wraps up all in general again, ‘I can do all things,’ &c.
But lest this should seem to be somewhat vain-glorious, ‘I can do all things,’ as if he were omnipotent (in some sense, indeed, a Christian is omnipotent), therefore he adds, ‘I can do all things,’ but with a blessed correction, ‘through Christ that strengthened me.’
Romans 4 – What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, hath found?
1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, hath found?
2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not toward God.
3 For what saith the scripture? And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness.
4 Now to him that worketh, the reward is not reckoned as of grace, but as of debt.
5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness.
6 Even as David also pronounceth blessing upon the man, unto whom God reckoneth righteousness apart from works,
Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven,
And whose sins are covered.
8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not reckon sin.
9 Is this blessing then pronounced upon the circumcision, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say, To Abraham his faith was reckoned for righteousness.
10 How then was it reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision:
11 and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while he was in uncircumcision: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be in uncircumcision, that righteousness might be reckoned unto them;
12 and the father of circumcision to them who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham which he had in uncircumcision.
13 For not through the law was the promise to Abraham or to his seed, that he should be heir of the world, but through the righteousness V 3, p 117 of faith.
14 For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise is made of none effect:
15 for the law worketh wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there transgression.
16 For this cause it is of faith, that it may be according to grace; to the end that the promise may be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (as it is written,
17 A father of many nations have I made thee) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth the things that are not, as though they were.
18 Who in hope believed against hope, to the end that he might become a father of many nations, according to that which had been spoken, So shall thy seed be.
19 And without being weakened in faith he considered his own body now as good as dead (he being about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb:
20 yea, looking unto the promise of God, he wavered not through unbelief, but waxed strong through faith, giving glory to God,
21 and being fully assured that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.
22 Wherefore also it was reckoned unto him for righteousness.
23 Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was reckoned unto him;
24 but for our sake also, unto whom it shall be reckoned, who believe on him that raised Jesus our Lord from the dead,
25 who was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised for our justification.
Romans 4 (Revised Version 1885)
photo: Cambridge Brevier
Romans 3 – What advantage then hath the Jew? or what is the profit of circumcision?
1 What advantage then hath the Jew? or what is the profit of circumcision? Much every way:
2 first of all, that they were intrusted with the oracles of God.
3 For what if some were without faith? shall their want of faith make of none effect the faithfulness of God?
4 God forbid: yea, let God be found true, but every man a liar; as it is written,
That thou mightest be justified in thy words,
And mightest prevail when thou comest into judgement.
5 But if our unrighteousness commendeth the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who visiteth with wrath? (I speak after the manner of men.)
6 God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?
7 But if the truth of God through my lie abounded unto his glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner?
8 and why not (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say), Let us do evil, that good may come? whose condemnation is just.
9 What then? are we in worse case than they? No, in no wise: for we before laid to the charge both of Jews and Greeks, that they are all under sin;
10 as it is written,
There is none righteous, no, not one;
11 There is none that understandeth,
There is none that seeketh after God;
12 They have all turned aside, they are together become unprofitable;
There is none that doeth good, no, not so much as one:
13 Their throat is an open sepulchre;
With their tongues they have used deceit:
The poison of asps is under their lips:
14 Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:
15 Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 Destruction and misery are in their ways;
17 And the way of peace have they not known:
18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.
19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it speaketh to them that are under the law; that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may be brought under the judgement of God:
20 because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for through the law cometh the knowledge of sin.
21 But now apart from the law a righteousness of God hath been manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;
22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ unto all them that believe;
23 for there is no distinction; for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God;
24 being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
25 whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, by his blood, to shew his righteousness, because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of God;
26 for the shewing, I say, of his righteousness at this present season: that he might himself be just, and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus.
27 Where then is the glorying? It is excluded. By what manner of law? of works? Nay: but by a law of faith.
28 We reckon therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.
29 Or is God the God of Jews only? is he not the God of Gentiles also?
30 Yea, of Gentiles also: if so be that God is one, and he shall justify the circumcision by faith, and the uncircumcision through faith.
31 Do we then make the law of none effect through faith? God forbid: nay, we establish the law.
Romans 3 (Revised Version 1885)
Romans 2 – Wherefore thou art without excuse
1 Wherefore thou art without excuse, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest dost practise the same things.
2 And we know that the judgement of God is according to truth against them that practise such things.
3 And reckonest thou this, O man, who judgest them that practise such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgement of God?
4 Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?
5 but after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up for thyself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgement of God;
6 who will render to every man according to his works:
7 to them that by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honour and incorruption, eternal life:
8 but unto them that are factious, and obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, shall be wrath and indignation,
9 tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that worketh evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Greek;
10 but glory and honour and peace to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek:
11 for there is no respect of persons with God.
12 For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned under law shall be judged by law;
13 for not the hearers of a law are just before God, but the doers of a law shall be justified:
14 for when Gentiles which have no law do by nature the things of the law, these, having no law, are a law unto themselves;
15 in that they shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness therewith, and their thoughts one with another accusing or else excusing them;
16 in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men, according to my gospel, by Jesus Christ.
17 But if thou bearest the name of a Jew, and restest upon the law, and gloriest in God,
18 and knowest his will, and approvest the things that are excellent,
19 being instructed out of the law, and art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them that are in darkness,
20 a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having in the law the form of knowledge and of the truth;
21 thou therefore that teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?
22 thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou rob temples?
23 thou who gloriest in the law, through thy transgression of the law dishonourest thou God?
24 For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you, even as it is written.
25 For circumcision indeed profiteth, if thou be a doer of the law: but if thou be a transgressor of the law, thy circumcision is become uncircumcision.
26 If therefore the uncircumcision keep the ordinances of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be reckoned for circumcision?
27 and shall not the uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who with the letter and circumcision art a transgressor of the law?
28 For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew,
29 which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
Romans 2 (Revised Version 1885)
photo: Cambridge Brevier
Romans 1 – Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,
1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,
2 which he promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,
3 concerning his Son, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh,
4 who was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection of the dead; even Jesus Christ our Lord,
5 through whom we received grace and apostleship, unto obedience of faith among all the nations, for his name’s sake:
6 among whom are ye also, called to be Jesus Christ’s:
7 to all that are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is proclaimed throughout the whole world.
9 For God is my witness, whom I serve in my spirit in the gospel of his Son, how unceasingly I make mention of you,
10 always in my prayers making request, if by any means now at length I may be prospered by the will of God to come unto you.
11 For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established;
12 that is, that I with you may be comforted in you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine.
13 And I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you (and was hindered hitherto), that I might have some fruit in you also, even as in the rest of the Gentiles.
14 I am debtor both to Greeks and to Barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.
15 So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you also that are in Rome.
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
17 For therein is revealed a righteousness of God by faith unto faith: as it is written, But the righteous shall live by faith.
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold down the truth in unrighteousness;
19 because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God manifested it unto them.
20 For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world V 3, p 115 are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity;
21 that they may be without excuse: because that, knowing God, they glorified him not as God, neither gave thanks; but became vain in their reasonings, and their senseless heart was darkened.
22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
24 Wherefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts unto uncleanness, that their bodies should be dishonoured among themselves:
25 for that they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile passions: for their women changed the natural use into that which is against nature:
27 and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another, men with men working unseemliness, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was due.
28 And even as they refused to have God in their knowledge, God gave them up unto a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not fitting;
29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity;
30 whisperers, backbiters, hateful to God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding,
31 covenant-breakers, without natural affection, unmerciful:
32 who, knowing the ordinance of God, that they which practise such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but also consent with them that practise them.
Romans 1 (English Revised Version / Revised Version 1885)
Childlikeness – B.B. Warfield
Mark 10:15:—“Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child, he shall in no wise enter therein.”
The declaration embodied in this verse, apparently very simple, and certainly perfectly clear in its general sense, is not without its perplexities when examined in its detailed implications. The occasion of its enunciation was an incident in the life of our Lord which manifests His beautiful tenderness as few others of those narrated in the Gospels. In the prosecution of His mission He went up and down the land, as we are told, “doing good.” It was characteristic of His teaching that the common people heard Him gladly. It was of the essence of the beneficent impression that He made that He drew to Him all who were afflicted and were suffering with diverse diseases.
The Evangelists stud their narratives thickly with accounts of how the people flocked to him, bringing all their sick and receiving from Him healing of body and mind. This appeared to His closest followers well worth while. It was all part of his office as One sent from God to heal the hurt of Israel. But the people did not stop there. Mothers brought their babies also to Him, and asked Him to lay His hands on them and bless them, too. Here His disciples drew the line. These babies were not sick and did not need the healing touch of the Great Physician. By the very fact that they were babies they were incapable of profiting by His wonderful words. To intrude them upon His attention was to interfere unwarrantably with His prosecution of His pressing labors, and to supplant those who had superior claims on His time and strength. So the disciples rebuked the parents and would fain have sent the babies away.
But the Lord, perceiving what was toward, was moved with indignation and intervened with His great, “Let the little children come to me, prevent them not.” And taking them in His own arms, He laid His hands on them and blessed them; the word employed being a very emphatic one, meaning a calling down fervently of blessings upon the objects of the prayer. The mothers went away comforted, bearing their blessed babies in their arms.
What a picture we have here of the Master’s loving-kindness! It is not strange if, when we read the narrative, we stop, first of all, to adore and love Him. It is a revelation of the character of Jesus; and what can we contemplate with more profit than the character of Jesus? But we soon begin to realize that the incident is freighted with instruction for us relatively to our Lord’s mission as well, and to question what messages it brings us from this point of view. We ask why was our Lord “moved with indignation” at His disciples for intercepting the approach of the mothers with their babies to Him. They meant well; surely He needed protection from unnecessary and useless draughts upon His energies. Indignation was certainly out of place unless there was some very harmful misunderstanding somewhere.
And so it begins to dawn upon us that the disciples ought to have known better. And that means ultimately that they ought to have known better than to suppose that Jesus’ mission was summed up in instruction and healing. Were this all that it was, it had been right enough to exclude the babies from His presence. Only if He had something for these babies too; only if His blessing on them—not needing healing and incapable of instruction—nevertheless, brought to them the supreme benefit; would it be a crime to shut them out from His offices. Whence we may learn that the blessing which Jesus brought was something above His instruction and superior to His healing ministry. A great physician, yes; a prophet come from God, yes; but above and beyond these, the bearer of blessings which could penetrate even to the helpless babes on their mothers’ breasts.
Perhaps if the disciples stopped short of this, it is not inexplicable that men of to-day, having proceeded so far, should show a tendency to stop right here and utilize this much gain with such devotion that they do not stay to search further. We have obviously here a warrant for infant baptism, they say. For does not Jesus declare that infants are to be permitted to come to Him and are not to be hindered—affirming further that the Kingdom of Heaven is of such, and taking them in His arms and blessing them? And can His Church, representing Him on earth, do less? Must not His Church suffer the infants to be brought to Him and take them in her arms and mark them with His name and bless them? Nay, say others, this and more: A warrant here for confidence in the salvation of infants. For how can we believe that He who on earth so tenderly and solemnly took them in His arms and blessed them, forbidding their access to Him to be hindered, will now in heaven refuse to receive them when they come flocking to His arms? And does He not distinctly declare that the Kingdom of God belongs to such; and does that not mean first of all—whatever else it may mean—just this simple thing, that infants as such are citizens of His heavenly kingdom and must be accredited with all the rights of that heavenly citizenship?
It is no part of my purpose to stop and examine the validity of these inferences. Let it be enough for us to-day to note clearly, merely that they are inferences. And having noted that they are inferences, let us for the moment at least pass them by, and engross ourselves in the teaching which is explicit and for the sake of which, therefore, we must suppose that the incident is recorded. For our Lord did not leave His disciples to draw inferences from the incident, unaided. He draws one for them; and that one is what we have chosen as the subject of our meditation to-day. In this inference He withdraws our minds from the literal children He had taken and blessed, and focuses them upon the spiritual children who should constitute the Kingdom of Heaven.
You will observe that He passes at once from the one to the other. When He says “For of such is the Kingdom of God,” He does not mean that the Kingdom of God consists of literal infants, but rather of those who are like infants. You may assure yourselves of this by turning to the first beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs”—or “of them”—“is the Kingdom of heaven.” That is to say, the Kingdom of heaven belongs to—or is constituted of—the “poor in spirit.” So, here, if what were intended were that the Kingdom of God belongs to—is constituted of—infants, we should have: “For of them”—or “theirs”—“is the Kingdom of God.” What we do have, however, is not that, but, on the contrary, “For of such as they—of their like—is the Kingdom of heaven.” The Kingdom of heaven is declared, therefore, to be constituted not of children but of the childlike. And the declaration is at once clinched by the words of our text, introduced by the solemn formula “Verily,” “Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall in no wise enter therein.”
The message which the incident is made by our Lord to bring us, therefore,—and which, accordingly, the passage directly teaches us with no inferences of ours—does not concern either infant baptism or infant salvation, but distinctly the constitution of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God, it asserts, is made up, not of children, but of the childlike. And that concerns directly you and me. The Kingdom of God, our text asserts, is made up of people like these children whom our Lord took in His arms and blessed. And that being so, we are warned that no one can enter that Kingdom who does not receive it “like a little child.” This is as much as to say, not only that childlikeness characterizes the recipients of that Kingdom, but that childlikeness is the indispensable prerequisite to entrance into it. It certainly behoves you and me who wish to be members of the Kingdom of God to know what this childlikeness means.
Well, many think at once of the innocence of childhood. The statement is, in effect they say, that the Kingdom of God consists solely of those who are in their moral innocence like children. Only such can enter it. A grave difficulty at once faces us, however, when we enunciate this view. That is that Jesus does not seem elsewhere to announce innocence as a—as the—condition of entrance into the Kingdom which He came to establish. On the contrary, He declared that He came not to call the righteous, but sinners, and announced that His mission was to seek and save what is lost. The publicans and harlots, He tells us, go into the Kingdom before the righteous Pharisees. To give point to this we note that in Luke’s narrative the parable of the publican and pharisee praying in the temple immediately precedes the account of our present incident, and is placed there evidently because of the affinity of the two narratives. It would read exceedingly oddly if the publican was justified and the pharisee, with all his righteousness, rejected, and immediately afterwards it were asserted that the Kingdom was solely for the innocent. No, there is nothing clearer than that Jesus’ mission was specifically to those who were not innocent—that it is characteristic of those who enter His Kingdom that they do not feel innocent—that, in a word, the Kingdom is built up from and by the “chief of sinners” like Paul, and those who say of themselves that “if any man say he hath no sin he is a liar, and the truth is not in him,” like John. Not the “righteous” but “sinners” Jesus came to save.
Remembering the pharisee and publican, shall we not say, then, that the trait of childhood here celebrated is, if not exactly innocence, at least humility? It was precisely humility that characterized the prayer of the publican and our Lord elsewhere commends humility as in some sense the primary Christian grace. “Blessed,” He says in that first beatitude, which we have already cited, “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs—of them—is the Kingdom of heaven.” Is not this an express parallel to our present passage, saying in plain words what is here said in figure? When we read, then, that the Kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are childlike, and only he can enter it who receives it as a child—is not the very thing meant, that none but the humble-minded, the poor in spirit, can possess the Kingdom? Indeed, is not this very thing spoken out in so many words in a closely related previous incident when Jesus took a child and set it among His disciples, as they were disputing as to who should be greatest, and bade them to humble themselves and become as that little child if they would be great in the Kingdom of heaven—enforcing the lesson moreover with a declaration almost the same as that of the text: “Verily I say unto you, Except ye turn and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the Kingdom of heaven”? It certainly seems as if in that passage at least the humility of little children is just the thing signalized, and entrance into the Kingdom is hung on the possession of that specific virtue.
Even in that passage, however, it may be well to move warily. Is humility the special characteristic of childhood? To become like a child may certainly be an act of humility in one not a child, and it is very intelligible that our Lord should, therefore, tell those whom He was exhorting to become like a child that they can only do it by humbling themselves. But is that quite the same as saying that humility is the characteristic virtue of childhood, or that a humble spirit is the precedent condition of entering the Kingdom of heaven? We seem to be in danger of reading the passage too superficially. Our Lord tells His disciples that they cannot enter the Kingdom which He came to found except they turn and become like little children; and He tells them that they cannot become like little children except by humbling themselves, and, therefore, that when they were quarrelling about greatness they were not “turning and becoming like little children.” But He does not seem to tell them that humility of heart is the characterizing quality of childlikeness; in this statement it is rather the pathway over which we must tread to attain something else which is the characterizing quality of childlikeness. Childlikeness is one thing; that by which that state is attained is another.
Much less is humility suggested to us in our present passage as the constitutive fact of childlikeness. These babies that Jesus took into His arms, in what sense were they lowly minded, and the types of humility of soul? If they were like other children of their age, they were probably, so far as they showed moral characteristics at all, little egotists. There is no period of life so purely, sharply, unrelievedly egotistic as infancy; and there is, consequently, no period of life less adapted to stand as the typical form of that lowliness of mind which seeks another’s, not one’s own, good.
Others have gone further and I think done better, therefore, when they have suggested that it is the simplicity of childhood, its artlessness and ingenuousness, which is the trait which our Lord intends when He declares that the Kingdom of Heaven is made up “of such” as they, and that no one who does not receive that Kingdom like a child—that is, in childlike simplicity and ingenuousness—shall enter into it. Above everything else the mental life of a child is characterized, perhaps, by directness. It lacks the sinuosities, double motives, complications, of the adult intelligence. The child does not think of “serving two masters,” but gives itself altogether to one thing or the other, and possesses at least the single purpose if not always that precise singleness of eye which our Lord commends. We know what an encomium our Saviour passed on that singleness of eye because of which the whole body should be full of light; and what an echo of this teaching His apostles sound in the praise of that singleness of heart or simplicity of soul in which they make the Christian disposition to consist. May it not, then, be this lack of duplicity in thought and feeling, this clear simplicity of heart which results in singleness of devotion, that our Lord declares here to be characteristic of childhood and of those spiritual children who alone may be true disciples?
This is a very attractive idea; but attractive as the idea is, it seems a little artificial and not easily deducible from the passage itself. It might fit very well in the eighteenth chapter of Matthew—and, indeed, would give a far better sense there than the conception of humility; but it seems to be outside the scope of our present passage. These children were mere babies—and in what clear and outstanding sense are babies characterized by simplicity of heart and singleness of soul?
We feel, then, that a great step is taken when others step in and suggest that the particular trait which our Saviour has in mind when He declares that only the childlike can enter His Kingdom is the trustfulness of the child. Here we touch, indeed, what seems really the fundamental trait of the truly childish mind, that colors all its moral life, and constitutes, not merely its dominant but we might almost say, its entire disposition—implicit trustfulness. The age of childhood is, above everything else, the age of trust. Dependent upon its elders for everything, the whole nature of the child is keyed to trust; on trust it lives, and by means of trust it finds all its means of existence. Its virtues and its faults alike grow out of trust as its fundamental characteristic. There is no picture of perfect and simple and implicit trust discoverable in all the world comparable to the picture of the infant lying peacefully and serenely on its mother’s bosom. And we must remember that this is the spectacle that our Lord had before Him. The mothers were bringing their babies to Him to be blessed; He looked at them as they approached; and, observing the utter trustfulness of the attitude of the child reclining in the nest of its mother’s arms, He announced that here is the type of the Kingdom of God and of its children. In these trusting babies He saw the symbol of the citizens of His Kingdom. “Of such as these,” He declared, “is the Kingdom of God”; and then He added that no man who did not receive the Kingdom like one of these little trustful babies, could even enter it. Trust, simple, utter trust, that is the pathway to the Kingdom.
We cannot doubt that in thus directing its attention to the trustfulness of little children as their characteristic trait, the mind has been turned in the right direction for the proper understanding of our Lord’s declaration. But even yet, I think, we have scarcely reached the bottom fact. You will observe that all the suppositions hitherto made move in the subjective sphere. Dispositions of mind alone have been suggested; men have been seeking to discover the disposition of mind which is most characteristic of childhood; to which we may suppose, therefore, that our Saviour, referred, when He declared that His disciples must be like children if they would enter His Kingdom. But our passage says nothing of dispositions of mind; and why should we?
Why not seek an objective characteristic here? These babies, which Christ took in His arms—what dispositions of mind had they? We must now revert to the narrative, and observe with care that these children were, in point of fact, mere babies. Perhaps we have been thinking of them rather as well-grown children, and picturing them as standing around our Lord’s knees, giving Him eager, if wondering attention, as He spoke to them. Nothing of the kind. They were babies in arms, perhaps of only a few weeks or months old, perhaps of only a few days. They had no disposition of mind. Luke calls them distinctly infants, and speaks, therefore, of their being brought as remarkable: “They were bringing to Him even their babies.” And that is the reason why the disciples rebuked their parents for bringing them—mere babies who could get nothing from the Master. The same thing is less clearly but equally really suggested in the other narratives; we read that they were brought; that Jesus took them in His arms, and the like. We must think of them, then, as distinctively babies. What dispositions of soul were characteristic of them? Just none at all. They lay happy and thoughtless in their mother’s arms and in Jesus’ own arms. Their characteristic was just helpless dependence; complete dependence upon the care of those whose care for them was necessary. And it would seem that it is just this objective helpless dependence which is the point of comparison between them and the children of the Kingdom.
What our Lord would seem to say, then, when He says: “Of such is the Kingdom of heaven,” is that the Kingdom of heaven is made up of those who are helplessly dependent on the King of the Heavens. And when He adds that only those who “receive” the Kingdom like a child can enter into it He seems to mean that the children of the Kingdom come into it like children of the world into the world—naked and stripped of everything, infants who are to be done for, who can not do for themselves. There is every indication of this as our Lord’s meaning. Among others we note that the record of the incident is followed immediately in all three Gospels by the record of the incident of the rich young man—which goes on, you see, to illustrate the same idea. For what was the trouble with the rich young man? Just this: that he could not divest himself of everything and come into the Kingdom naked. “He had great possessions.” “How hard, children,”—this “children” is possibly a reminiscence of His demand that they should be “like children”—“children, how hard it is for a rich man—or for anyone—to enter the Kingdom of heaven.” Into this Kingdom we can enter only as poor and naked and helpless as children enter the world. That we have nothing is the condition that we may have all things. Perhaps it may not be too much even to say that what the passage teaches is that we enter the Kingdom of heaven as we enter the world only by a birth—a birth which comes to us—which we do not secure. In that case we have a parallel passage in the third chapter of John which is one of the very few passages in John where the term “Kingdom of God” occurs.
The upshot of it all is, then, this: that the Kingdom of God is not taken—acquired—laid hold of; it is just “received.” It comes to men, men do not come to it. And when it comes to men, they merely “receive” it, “as”—“like”—“a little child.” That is to say, they bring nothing to it and have nothing to recommend them to it except their helplessness. They depend wholly on the King. Only they who so receive it can enter it; no disposition or act of their own commends them to it. Accordingly the Kingdom of God is “of such as little children.” The helpless babe on the mother’s breast, then, now we can say it with new meaning, is the true type of the Christian in his relation to God. It is of the very essence of salvation that it is supernatural. It is purely a gift, a gift of God’s; and they who receive it must receive it purely as a gift. He who will not humble himself and enter it as a little child enters the world, in utter nakedness and complete dependence, shall never see it.
Benjamin B. Warfield, Faith and Life (Bellingham, WA: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1916), 65–80. This work is in the Public Domain. Photo: Robert Davis / Cambridge Brevier Revised Version (1881/1885) with Verses
John 21 – After these things Jesus manifested himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias
1 After these things Jesus manifested himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and he manifested himself on this wise.
2 There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples.
3 Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also come with thee. They went forth, and entered into the boat; and that night they took nothing.
4 But when day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach: howbeit the disciples knew not that it was Jesus.
5 Jesus therefore saith unto them, Children, have ye aught to eat?
6 They answered him, No. And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes.
7 That disciple therefore whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his coat about him (for he was naked), and cast himself into the sea.
8 But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from the land, but about two hundred cubits off), dragging the net full of fishes.
9 So when they got out upon the land, they see a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon,
10 and bread. Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now taken.
11 Simon Peter therefore went up, and drew the net to land, full of great fishes, a hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, the net was not rent.
12 Jesus saith unto them, Come and break your fast. And none of the disciples durst inquire of him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord.
13 Jesus cometh, and taketh the bread, and giveth them, and the fish likewise.
14 This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after that he was risen from the dead.
15 So when they had broken their fast, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of John, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.
16 He saith to him again a second time, Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Tend my sheep.
17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
18 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.
19 Now this he spake, signifying by what manner of death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.
20 Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned back on his breast at the supper, and said, Lord, who is he that betrayeth thee?
21 Peter therefore seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?
22 Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.
23 This saying therefore went forth among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, that he should not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?
24 This is the disciple which beareth witness of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his witness is true.
25 And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that should be written.
John 21:1–25 (Revised Version 1885)
John 20 – Now on the first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, while it was yet dark, unto the tomb, and seeth the stone taken away from the tomb
1 Now on the first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, while it was yet dark, unto the tomb, and seeth the stone taken away from the tomb.
2 She runneth therefore, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we know not where they have laid him.
3 Peter therefore went forth, and the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb.
4 And they ran both together: and the other disciple outran Peter, and came first to the tomb;
5 and stooping and looking in, he seeth the linen cloths lying; yet entered he not in.
6 Simon Peter therefore also cometh, following him, and entered into the tomb; and he beholdeth the linen cloths lying,
7 and the napkin, that was upon his head, not lying with the linen cloths, but rolled up in a place by itself.
8 Then entered in therefore the other disciple also, which came first to the tomb, and he saw, and believed.
9 For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.
10 So the disciples went away again unto their own home.
11 But Mary was standing without at the tomb weeping: so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb;
12 and she beholdeth two angels in white sitting, one at the head, and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.
13 And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.
14 When she had thus said, she turned herself back, and beholdeth Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.
15 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou hast borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.
16 Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turneth herself, and saith unto him in Hebrew, Rabboni;
17 which is to say, Master. Jesus saith to her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended unto the Father: but go unto my brethren, and say to them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and my God and your God.
18 Mary Magdalene cometh and telleth the disciples, I have seen the Lord; and how that he had said these things unto her.
19 When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
20 And when he had said this, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. The disciples therefore were glad, when they saw the Lord.
21 Jesus therefore said to them again, Peace be unto you: as the Father hath sent me, even so send I you.
22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:
23 whose soever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven unto them; whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.
24 one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.
25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into his side. I will not believe.
26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them. Jesus cometh, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.
27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and see my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and put it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.
28 Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.
29 Jesus saith unto him, Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
30 Many other signs therefore did Jesus in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book:
31 but these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in his name.
John 20:1–31 (Revised Version 1885)