You have seen beautiful pictures of the Lord taking little children in His arms and blessing them. Once when the disciples would have kept the children from Him, He was much displeased. He said to let them come to Him, and He took them up in His arms, put His hands on them, and blessed them. Perhaps you know the sweet hymn that begins:
I think when I read that sweet story of old,
There was another time when the Lord called a little child to Him, in the house in Capernaum, and told the disciples that little children and those who are like little children in their hearts are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. The disciples as they walked along the road had been disputing who should be the greatest. They thought of rich men whom they knew, and rulers like Herod or like the great Emperor at Rome. They thought the Lord would be such a king, and they disputed which of them would have the chief places in His kingdom and the largest share of His riches and power. The Lord called a little child, and said that they who were like little children were the greatest in His kingdom. Little children have what is more precious than riches and stronger than the power of any earthly king. They have the good angels very near to them, and a happiness that the angels bring. They are protected by the Lord's own power from evil things. If as they grow older they are still like little children, and keep near to the Lord, and trust Him and love Him, they will always be safe. If they are willing like little children to learn what the Lord will teach them they will be wise. That is why angels in heaven are so wise and so strong.
Everyone is at first a little child. The Lord gives him this little child to take care of. He must not neglect it. He must not do it harm, as he will if he does wrong of any kind. He will send away the good angels and the protection and happiness that are from them. If he despises the little child that the Lord has given him to take care of, if he neglects him and does him harm, he is destroying his own soul. No, we must protect the little child in ourselves, and be prompt and brave in cutting off and putting away everything that leads us astray. The hand is every wrong action; the eye is every wrong thought. We must not hesitate a moment when we know that anything is wrong. Cut it off; it is destroying our life.
Or we can think of the good, heavenly things that the Lord has given us to take care of as sheep of which we are shepherds, under Him the Great Shepherd. If any of the good things are wandering off and being lost, like good shepherds we must hunt them up and bring them back, and not let them be lost.
The Lord loves children always, just as He loved them when He took them up in His arms and blessed them. Let me read Matthew 18:1-14.
This is another story where it is interesting to open to the three Gospels where it is told, and follow along together. (Matthew 18:1-14; Mark 9:33-50; Luke 9:46-50) Where were the Lord and the disciples? What had gone before, which led up to the Lord's calling the little child and His lesson about the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? In what way does the Lord wish us when we are grown up, to be converted and become as little children? The word "converted" suggests turning, and the Greek word in this place means "turning back." We must turn back from pride and love of being great and rich in a worldly way. In the next verse it is spoken of as humbling oneself. We must know that we are not strong and wise, and must trust the Lord to protect us and lead and teach us, as little children trust their parents. When older people become in this way again as little children, they have a deeper, wiser innocence than when they were children in years.
As you read on about receiving a little child in the Lord's name, and about the danger of offending (or causing to stumble) a little child, or of despising one of these little ones, you will see that the Lord is speaking not only of children in the personal sense, but of innocence and each of the innocent qualities of trust, and obedience, and love which make one as a little child - the danger of willfully destroying or despising these; the duty of faithfully guarding them and of cutting off whatever endangers them. These innocent things are what keep the angels near to us.
It is a splendid lesson (in verses 8 and 9) of promptness and courage in cutting off every habit of action, every way of life, every thought, which injures innocence and leads away from heaven to hell. When we know that a thing is wrong, it is fatal to delay, to go half way in giving it up. We must be prompt, and thorough, and decided. Boys and girls like to do things that require courage; they enjoy hardship; they do not flinch at a little pain. Here is their opportunity for true courage. They must not be weak and spare themselves. They must not be afraid to protect the little child of innocence in themselves and everywhere. If they despise the little child they are despising also heaven and the Lord.
In verses 15-17 the Lord gives us a rule which would prevent a great deal of pain and strife if it were followed literally. How often, if someone seems to have done us wrong, the trouble can be made right if we go to our brother kindly and alone. Often he may not have meant to do us harm; he may not even have known that there was harm. He may have been hasty, and may have acted from an impulse that he is now sorry for. How much better to give him opportunity in this quiet, kindly way to be friends again, than to keep up and increase the bad feeling by telling of the wrong to others and saying hard things about our brother. How much better so, than to go on in silence cherishing hurt feelings and hard thoughts.
What is said in verse 18 about binding and loosing on earth and in heaven, brings home to us the importance of choosing good and not evil in this world, for we are choosing what is to be our life forever. Compare the warning and promise in Revelation 22:11.
1. What is heavenly greatness? How can we become as little children after we are grown up? (John 3:3-8)
2. Who are always near to little children?
3. What sheep has the Lord given us to keep?
4. How does the Lord teach us that it is not right to talk about the faults of others in any unkind or idle way?
5. How is it that things that are done on earth are done in heaven?
The childlike spirit which is so precious is the spirit which knows that we have no goodness and no strength of our own, but is humbly dependent on the Lord. It is strong because it trusts His strength. It is wise because it is willing to be taught by Him. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." To such a spirit all things of heavenly life are possible; it opens the soul even to the Lord. (H. 407, 408) To despise and willfully destroy this innocence is to sink into the depths of evil, and in a more hopeless way than when carried into evil by ignorance or false teaching. Such falsity is represented by the millstone. The word used in the text means ass-millstone. Literally this suggests a large, heavy stone. Spiritually it suggests truth or falsity of the natural mind, of a worldly scientific sort; for the power of natural thought and reason is represented by the ass. (E. 1182; A. 9755)
"It must needs be that offenses come." There will be contact with evil and experience of evil, but it is dangerous only to the extent that we make it our own and so are responsible for it. Compare the lesson in Matthew 15: 17-20, about the things which do and do not defile.
Think carefully about the hand and foot that are to be cut off, and the eye that is to be plucked out. The foot suggests the outmost plane of life, in contact with the world. The hand suggests actions, and the eye thoughts. The member to be cut off is the act or thought which is selfish and evil, that the life may be single in its service of the Lord. (E. 313, 1081)
Read about the angels with little children in H. 295; A. 2303.
Give a little deeper thought to the threefold charge about our duty to one who trespasses against us. Going to him alone is to go in the power of kind affection. Calling witnesses is to bring truth for his instruction. Telling to the church is the appeal to external authority to secure right. If all fail, we may not be able to have dealings with our brother, but we are still not warranted in abusing him, nor in feeling unkindly toward him. This threefold charge also describes the Lord's dealing with men. If they reject His love, His instruction, and His appeal to their most external knowledge of right, still He does not reject them, but they exclude themselves from heaven. (A. 4197)
Binding and loosing on earth, is restraining or cherishing evil or good in this life, especially in actual conduct; at the same time deeper and eternal things are done for us in the heaven of our souls. The two who should agree on earth are the will and understanding. An act in which these two are united becomes a permanent part of character. The two or three gathered in the Lord's name suggest these same two faculties in their several degrees, highest to lowest. (E. 532, 815)