False Ambition Versus Childlikeness.

6-9. FALSE AMBITION VERSUS CHILDLIKENESS.
(Capernaum, Autumn, A. D. 29.)
a MATT. 18:1-14; b MARK 9:33-50; c LUKE 9:46-50.

      c 46 And there arose a reasoning among them, which of them was the greatest.

  b 33 And he came to Capernaum:

  c 47 But when Jesus saw the reasoning of their heart, b and when he was in the house [probably Simon Peter's house] he asked them, What were ye reasoning on the way?

  34 But they held their peace: for they had disputed one with another on the way, who was the greatest. [The Lord with his disciples was now on his way back to Galilee from Cæsarea Philippi, where, some ten days before, he had promised the keys of the kingdom to Peter, and where he had honored Peter and the sons of Zebedee by a mysterious withdrawal into the mount. These facts, therefore, no doubt started the dispute as to which should hold the highest office in the kingdom. The fires of envy thus set burning were not easily quenched. We find them bursting forth again from time to time down to the very verge of Christ's exit from the world-- Matthew 20:20-24 ; Luke 22:24 .]

  35 And he sat down, and called the twelve, and he said unto them, If any man would be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all. [The spirit which proudly seeks to be first in place thereby consents to make itself last in character, for it reverses the graces of the soul, turning love into envy, humility into pride, generosity into selfishness, etc.]

  a 1 In that hour came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven? [Not comprehending our Lord's answer and wishing to have him definitely point out the honored person, they now come asking this question. Had Jesus could have been found.]

  2 And he called to him a little child

  b 36 And he took a child, c and set him by his side, b and set him in the midst of them: and taking him in his arms, he said unto them,

a Verily I say unto you, Except ye turn, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.

  4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. [Jesus told them plainly that they must turn from their sin of personal ambition or they could not be his disciples--part of his kingdom--and he pointed them to a little child as the model in this particular, because the humble spirit in which the child looks up to its parents stood out in sharp contrast with their self-seeking, self-exalting ambition.]

  5 And   b 37 Whosoever shall receive one of such little children {c this little child} in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive {b receiveth} me, receiveth not me, but c receiveth him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same is great. [Greatness does not consist in place. Disciples who receive those of a childlike spirit and disposition that they may thereby honor the name of Christ are honored of Christ as the greatest. The words "in my name" probably suggested to John the incident which follows.]

  49 And John answered and said, Master, b Teacher, we saw one casting out demons in thy name; and we forbade him, c because he followeth {b followed} c not with us. [Was not one of our immediate company. This man's actions had excited the jealousy of John. Jealousy as to official prerogative is very common. His zeal for Jesus reminds us of the friends of Moses ( Numbers 11:27-29 ). But Jesus shows that one who knows enough of him to use his power is not apt to dishonor him.]

  50 But Jesus said unto him, b Forbid him not: for there is no man who shall do a mighty work in my name, and be able quickly to speak evil of me.

  40 For he that is not against us is for us. you is for you. [The converse of this statement is found at Matthew 12:30 . The two statements taken together declare the impossibility of neutrality. If a man is in no sense against Christ, then he is for him; and if he is not for Christ, he is against him.]

  b 41 For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink, because ye are Christ's, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward. [Jesus here returns to the discussion of greatness, and reasserts the doctrine that the smallest act of righteousness, if performed for the sake of the King, shall be honored in the kingdom. For comment, see Section 61.]

  42 And {a 6 but} b whosoever shall cause one of these little ones that believe on me to stumble, it were better for him if {a it is profitable for him that} b a great millstone [the word indicates a large millstone which was turned by an ass] were {a should be} b hanged about his neck, and he were {a that he should be} b cast into the sea. a sunk in the depth of the sea. [Character depends upon small things. If a small act of goodness receives its reward, an act of evil, made apparently small by the trifling insignificance of the person against whom it is committed, receives just as inevitably its punishment. In short, there is no smallness in good and evil that men may rely upon, for heavy penalties may be meted out for what the world judges to be light sins. Those who cause the weak to lapse into unbelief through their ecclesiastical arrogance have a heavy reckoning for which to answer. Greeks, Romans and Egyptians were punished by such millstone drowning. But the fate of one who, by striving for place, causes others to sin, will be worse than that. From offenses caused by a proud spirit Jesus now passes to discuss offences or sins caused by any spirit of evil.]

  7 Woe unto the world because of occasions of stumbling! for it must needs be that the occasions come; but woe to that man through whom the occasion cometh! [The depravity of man makes sin inevitable, but nevertheless it does not remove or causes to sin.]

  b 43 And if thy hand causeth thee to stumble, cut it off: it is good for thee to enter into life maimed, rather than having thy two hands to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire.

  45 And if thy foot causeth thee to stumble, cut it off: it is good for thee to enter into life halt, rather than having thy two feet to be cast into hell. {a the eternal fire.} [We see from this that "hell" and "eternal fire" are interchangeable terms, and stand in contrast to eternal life.]

  9 And if thine eye causeth {b cause} a thee to stumble, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is good for thee to enter into life {b the kingdom of God} with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast a into the hell of fire.

  b 48 where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. [It is better to deny ourselves all unlawful pleasures, even if the denial be as painful and distressing as the loss of a member. The image of the worm is taken from Isaiah 66:24 , and refers to those worms which feed upon the carcasses of men. The fire and worm can hardly be taken literally, for the two figures are incompatible--worms do not frequent fires. The two figures depict hell as a state of decay which is never completed and of burning which does not consume. Some regard the worm as a symbol of the gnawings of remorse, and the fire as a symbol of actual punishment.]

  49 For every one shall be salted with fire. [At this point many ancient authorities add, "and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt."]

  50 Salt is good: but if the salt have lost its saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace one with another. [We have here one of the most difficult passages in the Bible. If the word "fire" were found in an isolated text it might be taken as a symbol either of purification or of punishment. But the context here determines its meaning, for it has just been taken twice as a symbol of punishment. Salt is a symbol of that which preserves from decay. Now, Jesus has just been of bliss and punishment. In both of these states the souls of men are salted or preserved. Every one of the wicked is preserved by a negative or false salt--a worm which feeds but does not die, and a fire which consumes but refuses to go out. Though this state is a condition of life, it is such a negative and false condition that it is elsewhere termed a second death. It is therefore rightly called a "salted" or preserved condition, yet it contradicts the symbolic idea of saltness. As we understand it, the difficulty of the passage lies in this contradictory sense in which the term "salt" is used--a contradiction in which the term "eternal life" also shares, for eternal life is the constant contrast to life in hell, though that life also is spoken of as eternal. The true Christian--the man who offers his body as "a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God"--is preserved by the true salt or element of preservation, which is a divinely begotten life of righteousness within him. This is the good state of preservation which a man is counseled to obtain, and not to lose, since it will not be restored to him. The passage summarizes and contrasts the two states of future preservation, one being the salt of eternal life which preserves a man to enjoy the love of God in heaven, and the other being the salt of fire which preserves him in hell to endure the just punishment of God. The "every one" in verse 49 refers to the sufferers mentioned in verse 48.]

  a 10 See that ye despise not one of these little ones: for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven. [Jesus here resumes his warning against that pride which exalts itself and despises the humble; disclosing the fact that the ministration of angels is not only general but special, certain angels being entrusted with the care of certain individuals, and all of them supplementing their own wisdom and power by direct access to the presence of God.]

  12 How think ye? if any man have a hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and go unto the mountains, and seek that which is goeth astray?

  13 And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth over it more than over the ninety and nine which have not gone astray.

  14 Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish. [Those who have led highly moral lives have a tendency to despise those who have been defiled by gross sin. This truth is abundantly illustrated by the conduct of the Pharisees, but that such little ones should not be despised Jesus speaks this warning parable. Though the sheep in the fold and the one that is lost have, as individuals, the same intrinsic value, yet this even balance of value is somewhat modified by the sentiments and emotions incident to loss and recovery. Moreover, the anxiety and trouble caused by the sheep's wandering do not depreciate but rather enhance the value of that sheep, because the heart of the Shepherd is so replete with goodness that the misbehavior of the sheep prompts him to feel pity and compassion, rather than to cherish resentment and revenge. Sin does not add to a man's intrinsic value in God's sight--nay, it detracts from it; but it excites in the heart of God pity, compassion, and other tender emotions which make it extremely dangerous for those who hinder his reformation and imperil his soul by despising him.]