Page images

He was

moreover, learn the great truth, that it is not the mere casual entertainment of an evil thought, but the giving way to it, that renders the character vicious. The Apostles were ambitious, so long as they misunderstood the nature of Christ's kingdom. While this may

have been wrong, it was not unnatural in their circumstances; and the transient errors of good men should be regarded rather with pity than with condemnation.

Jesus answers the question of his friends by a figure of practical eloquence, which could be seen as well as heard, and made its appeal to their hearts as well as to their understandings. Verses 2, 3: “ And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them. And said, Verily, I say unto you, except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." There is scarcely an amiable point of character which we can imagine among men, that is not to be discovered in the conduct of Jesus. kind and dutiful to his mother; he permitted John to recline on his bosom; he wept at the grave of Lazarus; he lamented over the metropolis of his native land; and many

instances are on record of his fondness for children. Nor is this extraordinary; their innocence, their affectionate dispositions, their interesting conversation, so sweet, so pure, so guileless, and their very helplessness, endear them to every gentle heart. No radically bad man was ever fond of children. And how can some imagine they are destined to eternal fires; that the sins of Adam entailed upon them will bring them to destruction; that millions of them are predestinated to woe unending? This is not the place to argue the question; may all readers of this Exposition receive the words of the Master, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not to come unto me; for of such is ths kingdom of heaven." Would to. God that both writer and readers possessed their purity of spirit, their innocence of thought, their sinlessness of conduct, their strength of affection! Amen! It was not, however, for their character in general, but for one peculiar feature of that character, that Jesus makes this child an example to his followers. 66 Whosoever, therefore, shall humble himself, and become as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven." How different, in this respect, the kingdom of Jesus from the kingdoms of the world! In the latter, a continual striving after distinction, a restless ambition, are absolutely necessary to win the way to greatness; in the former, a character the very opposite of this, a character of deep humility, is the surest promoter of exaltation. And what temper of mind save humility becomes such creatures as we, who are weak, and frail, and fallible; who possess nothing of our own, but have received all things from on high; whose minds are limited to the knowledge of a very little wisdom; who are as nothing, less than nothing and vanity, when compared with the Eternal?

Verse 10: “ Take heed 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 wbich is in heaven.” Iwo opinions prevail as to the true signification of this verse, arising from the mode of interpretation adopted, whether it be literal or figurative. Dr. Adam Clarke, who explains it literally, writes thus: “Our Lord here not only alludes to, but in my opinion establishes, the notion received by almost all nations, viz. that every person has a guardian angel; and that these have always access to God, to receive orders relative to the management of their charge.” We ourselves believe that there are orders of intellectual beings, superior to mankind in knowledge, in purity, in power, in love, in capacity for happiness. We see infinite gradations of living beings, from the worm up to man, each excelling another in complexity of structure, in powers of body, in capabilities of enjoyment, in mental qualities. Such being the case in this world, it is natural to suppose that the series goes on ascending through angels, archangels, cherubim, and seraphim, and other races of whose names and powers we are ignorant, each a step before some other in the career of perfection, each more closely resembling the excellences of the Creator, but none of them approaching the magnitude of his infinite attributes. This is a more natural conclusion, than to suppose that an immense and inconceivable gap exists between God and mankind, unpeopled by spiritual and immortal beings. Revelation corroborates this notion, and teaches the existence of angels. In the time of miracles, they seem occasionally to have interfered in the concerns of mankind; but pleasing as it may be to imagine, that

“ Innumerable spiritual creatures walk the earth

Unseen, both when we wake and when we sleep,” who are watching over our fortunes, and almost guiding the footsteps of our pilgrimage, the expression in the text will scarce warrant such an inference. Miracles were essential at the delivery of the Antediluvian, Mosaic, and Christian dispensations; and it was then requisite that immediate messengers from heaven, human or superhuman, should be sent to the nations. But now that we have the Gospel for our guidance, along with the assurance that we shall never have another revelation, there is no further need of direct Divine interference in human affairs. God has fixed laws for the government of the physical world, which he never alters, and with which he never intermeddles, but leaves to work out his purposes by the powers which he originally bestowed upon them. The doctrines and the precepts of Christianity are his laws for the government of the moral world, the world of men's hearts, and lives, and conduct; them also he leaves to exert their own native influence, without his direct or immediate assistance. The language of the text is easily explicable in consonance with this opinion. We find the doctrine of guardian angels in the writings of Plato, the Greek philosopher; he taught that at his birth every mortal receives a particular tutelary spirit, who accompanies him until his death, and conducts his soul to the place of punishment and purification. This opinion, which became popular among his countrymen, was, in all probability, derived from the Egyptians. The Jews, during their captivity in Babylon, adopted many of the opinions of their conquerors respecting the nature, names, and offices of angels, and from the same source they may have derived the notion of guardian spirits. That a belief in a peculiar spirit attached to each individual, did prevail among the Jews at the time of the Saviour's ministry, is proved by the united testimony of ancient historians and modern commentators. Jesus alludes to this belief for the purpose of showing the providence of God over little children; “I say unto

you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father.” It is evident that a public speaker may allude to a popular opinion, or even to a popular superstition, either for the purpose of enlivening his discourse, or of placing his meaning more clearly before his audience, without, at the same time, either affirming or denying the truth of the sentiment which he uses for ornament or illustration. Thus, a preacher may enforce the doctrine of a resurrection, by a simile drawn from the phænix, which springs out of its own ashes to new youth and vigour, although he be convinced that the story of the phenix is entirely fabulous. Such a use, Jesus seems to have made of the Jewish notion concerning guardian angels; he referred to it as an emphatical way of proving the care of God over children. In that reference, he neither affirmed nor denied the correctness of the opinion itself; and, accordingly, it has come down to our day, a matter for free and legitimate speculation. With our present knowledge, and with our present conviction that God does not now interfere supernaturally in human affairs, we are not disposed to receive the opinions of the Greeks, Babylonians, and Jews, respecting guardian angels. The verse seems merely to contain “an emblematical representation of the care of Divine Providence over little children."

Verse 18: “ Verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye

shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." This power, as was noticed in the preceding chapter, was first given to Peter, on his inspired confession of the Messiahship and Sonship of his Master: it is now bestowed equally on all the Apostles.

Verse 19: “ Again, I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth, as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.” This promise, it appears to us, was made to the Apostles only, and not, as it is often supposed, to all Christians. It is the Apostles, and they alone, to whom Jesus is speaking, and his promise begins with the words, " Again, I say unto you." We of the present day, have no sufficient reason to expect that all the petitions we offer to the Highest, will be granted according to our desires. There are many reasons why they should be refused. “ We ask, and receive not, because we ask amiss;" this is the case when we seek more after worldly blessings and temporal good, than after purity of soul and the happiness of heaven. Frequently, the things we seek, would, if bestowed upon us, do us evil, and prove rather a curse than a blessing; and it is merciful in God to withhold them from us. Again, if we pray for the recovery of a dear friend or for our own recovery from grievous sickness, God may see that the death of that friend or the protraction of our own disease, are the best means for promoting the purity and bappiness of him and of us; and thus refuse to grant a request which was made in ignorance. Nevertheless, every prayer we make is answered; we never go upon our knees in secret, and address our Father in sincerity, but we rise wiser and purer men; more disposed to love our Creator and our brethren; better fitted to discharge all the duties of life; and with a more solid ground of conviction, that we are under the care of a Being who acts ever for our true and lasting felicity.

Verse 20: “ For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Two meanings may be attached to the promise, “there am I in the midst of them.” It may be interpreted literally, as the largest sect of Christians interpret « This is my body;" and it will thus signify a real, personal, corporeal presence. Or it may be interpreted figuratively, to denote that the spirit of Jesus and the spirit of his Gospel-peace, and purity, and truth, and love should dwell amongst them. We prefer this view of the text, as more consonant with the general teachings of Holy Writ, which ascribe omnipresence to no being but the FATHER; and also as in perfect accordance with the idiom of the language spoken by our Lord. It is universally admitted that Jesus spoke the Syriac language; now, the question to be decided is, What is the obvious meaning, in that dialect, of the phrase, “ There am I in the midst of you”? We can, most fortunately, determine this point with great facility. Gregory Bar He

« PreviousContinue »