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Again; "Keep my commandments, and live. Get wisdom, get understanding. Forget it not, neither decline from the words of my mouth. Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee, She shall bring thee to honour, when thou shalt embrace her. She shall give to thy head an ornament of grace. A crown of glory shall she give unto thee. Hear, my son, and receive my sayings: and the years of thy life shall be many," Prov. iv. 4-10.
Peace and tranquillity is one great advantage, mentioned in the passages already cited. Again it is said: "Thou shalt walk in thy way safely, and thy foot shall not stumble. When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid: Yea thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet. For the Lord shall be thy confidence, and shall keep thy foot from being taken," ch. iii. 23—26.
And though it be true, that a "little, which a righteous man has, is better than the treasures of many wicked," Ps. xxxvii. 16; yet virtue and discretion do also tend to secure a competence; and often add, or give, great abundance: as it is said in a place before cited: "Length of days is in her right hand, and in her left hand riches and honour," Prov. iii. 16. And, "Through wisdom is an house builded, and by understanding it is established. And by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all precious and pleasant riches:" that is, with all things both for use and ornament. "A wise man is strong: yea a wise man increaseth strength,” Prov. xxiv. 3-5.
All these blessings are often, and with great assurance, spoken of as advantages usually attending wisdom: or as the happy lot and portion of those who value and seek it, and observe and obey its rules and directions; health and long life, riches and honour; that is, a competence, and sometimes abundance, and credit and honour therewith; safety and security, peace and quietness, and great satisfaction of mind.
V. I shall conclude all with some directions concerning the right manner of seeking wisdom. Seek it early, diligently, and with continuance, and decline the society of those who respect not the laws of wisdom.
1. Seek wisdom early, or without delay: now, immediately, apply yourselves to the study of the principles of wisdom, the rules of right conduct. Attend to the instructions given you, suitable to your age and condition, by those who are knowing, and are concerned for your welfare and prosperity, both in soul and body. And now, immediately, form in your minds a fixed purpose and resolution of living and acting by those rules which appear just, wise, and reasonable.
2. Seek wisdom diligently. Let not time run waste, without employment. Let not whole days be lost in sloth and idleness: but be concerned to make daily improvement in some part of useful knowledge. Let the rules and maxims of wisdom be thought of, and meditated upon early and late. Let her principles be familiar to your minds, and always entertaining and delightful. So will they occur to you when they should be brought into action, and when you are in danger of being seduced to act contrary to them.
3. You must also endeavour to continue in this your love and affection for wisdom, and careful attention to her, because of our natural weakness and inconstancy, and because there are temptations and tempters: and you are in danger, if you are off your guard, of being misled by the enticements, or the provocations, of those you meet with.
4. Therefore let me add: decline as much as possible familiarity and intimacy with those who shew no respect to the laws of wisdom: who have little or no worth: who possess, indeed, the human shape and intellect, but aim at no improvement: who rashly and inconsiderately venture to make a jest of sin, and despise wisdom, because it is too high for them: who are pleased with the worthless trash of sensual enjoyments: but have no taste of perfection and beauty, order and proportion, and the principles thereof, either in the natural, or the moral world: whose views and prospects are narrow and confined, low and base, like the "very beasts that perish," Ps. xlix. 12, 20; minding nothing but present objects: neither looking forward to future time, nor observing the consequences and tendencies of things present. Reckon yourselves to be above such contemptible people; and disdain to follow either their counsel or their example.
These are they that love wisdom. These she loves. They that so seek her shall find her, and be blessed with all the precious things in her gift.
Let not, then, any immoderate love of pleasure, or ease, or much riches, or high honour and preferment, enter into the mind, to damp this reasonable principle, this excellent and becoming,
this virtuous and hopeful disposition, the love of wisdom. But let this always be the prevailing, the governing, influencing principle of your minds. "Exalt wisdom and she will promote you.' Esteem and study her rules and maxims, constantly obey her precepts, and decline not from her paths. "She will, then, bring you to honour, and crown you with durable riches and righteousness."
LITTLE CHILDREN BROUGHT TO CHRIST.
Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray. And the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said: Suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. And he laid his hands on them. Matt. xix. 13, 14, 15.
Ir was now near the conclusion of our Saviour's ministry and life on this earth. He was in a place beyond Jordan, from whence he went up to Jerusalem, where he suffered.
This particular history being related by three evangelists, it is likely, that it contains something which may be of use for our direction or encouragement. St. John indeed has not taken any notice of it. But you are sensible, that he had seen the three former gospels before he wrote: and therefore he very rarely gives an account of such things as had been sufficiently related already by one or more of the other evangelists.
In St. Mark's gospel this history is recorded after this manner, ch. x. 13: " And they brought young children unto him, that he should touch them. And his disciples rebuked those that brought them. 14. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them: Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. 15. Verily, I say unto you: whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. 16. 16. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them."
St. Luke says, ch. xviii. 15: "And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them. But when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16. But Jesus called them unto him, and said: Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. 17. Verily, I say unto you: Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, shall not enter therein.
These are the accounts which the evangelists have given us of this matter,
I shall endeavour to make an improvement of this history by considering these several particulars:
I. Who were now brought to Christ.
II. For what end they were brought to him.
III. The reception he gave them; which at the very first view may be perceived to be kind and gracious.
IV. The declaration made concerning them, that "of such is the kingdom of heaven,” or "the kingdom of God."
1. The first particular to be considered by us is, who were now brought to Christ.
In St. Matthew they are styled little children. In one place of St. Mark we have, in our version, young children: but in the original it is still one and the same word; which therefore throughout those two evangelists should be uniformly rendered little children.
In St. Luke they are called infants: a word, which, as the critics in the Greek language say, comprehends any children from the time of their birth, till they are four years of age.. the same word which we have in another text: "Knowing, that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures," 2 Tim. iii. 15.
That these were little children may be inferred from a circumstance mentioned in St. Mark, that Jesus" took them in his arms."
Their tender age may be argued likewise from hence: that it is not said of Christ, that he taught them, or asked them any questions.
I choose not to argue from the expression of their being brought to Christ: not thinking it sufficient to prove, that they were carried in arms. For the phrase may be used of such as are led, conducted, guided to a place or person.
Upon the whole we may conclude, I think, that they were what they are called by the evangelists, little children, or infants. None of them were arrived to the full exercise of reason: and some of them might be carried in the arms of their friends.
II. The next particular to be considered by us is, what views they had who brought these little children to Jesus: or, for what end they were brought to him.
It does not appear that they were brought to Jesus to be healed by him of any sickness, or weakness, which they were afflicted with: for there is nothing of that kind hinted in any of the evangelists, though no less than three of them have recorded this history. And, if that had been the case, the disciples, it is likely, would not have rebuked the persons who came with these children. For before now there had been such applications made to our Lord by many persons, not only for themselves, but for others also: for their friends, or their children, or their servants.
For what end and purpose, then, may some say, should these little children be brought to Jesus, who were so young as to have little or no exercise of reason and understanding, and must therefore have been incapable of receiving instruction?
That we may the better answer this inquiry, we should attend to the evangelists' expressions. St. Mark says, "they brought little children to Jesus, that he should touch them." St. Luke: they brought unto him also" or even "infants, that he should touch them." But in our text, in St. Matthew, it is said: "that he should put his hands on them, and pray." And it is likely, that this is the meaning of all the evangelists: it having been common among the Jews, to lay the hand upon those whom they blessed: or for whom they prayed to God, that he would bless them. So, when Jacob blessed the two sons of Joseph in Egypt, a little before his death, he laid his hands upon each of them, Gen. xlviii. 14.
These persons therefore, here spoken of, brought these "little children" to Jesus, that he might lay his hands upon them and bless them." They had a high opinion of the piety of Jesus, and of his interest in the divine favour. Probably they were disciples, or believers, such as took Jesus for a prophet, and even the great prophet who was to come, the Messiah. And they were desirous that their children should receive a blessing from him.
Some may be apt to think, this must have been a superstitious, and fond conceit of these persons. To which I would answer, that, probably, it was not entirely so. For in that case Jesus would not have shewn them such regard. It cannot be thought, that our Lord would countenance an action, that was altogether unreasonable, and quite destitute of all good foundation. And supposing, that there was a mixture of some wrong views in this conduct, the Lord Jesus was more gracious than to reject these persons, or condemn their design upon that account. The twelve disciples had not been perfectly disinterested, or free from all secular views, in coming to him and following him. Yet he was well pleased with their attendance on him: and he promised them a reward for it if they continued to act as disciples with sincerity: though they still wanted a sinless perfection, and had not a wisdom void of all defects, Luke xxii. 28-30.
III. The third thing is the reception he gave these children: which at the very first view, we plainly perceive to be kind and gracious.
The disciples rebuked those who brought them. They turned them away, as impertinent and troublesome. They refused them admission to the presence of their Master, and reproved their design in coming to him. But when Jesus perceived what had been done, he was much displeased, and said unto them, "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not ;" nor their friends, who would bring them to me. And those in particular, who were now brought to him, he received. Some of them he "took up into his arms," and affectionately embraced, them on all he "laid his hands, and blessed them."
How he blessed them, or prayed for them, the evangelists have not said particularly: but we may reasonably conclude, that he offered up to the Father some prayers for them, suited to the doctrine taught by him.
Possibly he presented some requests, agreeing with the prayer he had given to his disciples. Or, he prayed for them that they might know God, and him whom he had sent, so as to obtain everlasting life.'
Or, Father, sanctify these little children through thy truth: thy word is truth.'
Or, I pray not, that thou shouldst now take them to thyself out of this world, though it be 'a world of snares and sorrows: but 1 pray that thou wilt keep them from the evil of the world. Father, keep through thy own name these little ones, which have been now brought unto me.' In some such way as this we may suppose he blessed these little children, or prayed for them and recommended them to God; that is in a manner becoming his affectionate concern for their real welfare and everlasting happiness, and his near relation and intimate union with the Father. IV. The fourth and last thing to be observed by us is Christ's declaration concerning these little children: "Of such is the kingdom of heaven.'
So here in St. Matthew. But in the two other evangelists the expression is: "Of such is the kingdom of God." Which two expressions are equivalent, denoting one and the same thing; the gospel dispensation, the state of things under the Messiah, or the church and kingdom of God on earth, in which men are prepared for the heavenly state, the church and kingdom of God above: therefore John the Baptist said: " Repent ye, for the kingdom of God is at hand," Matt. iii. 2; ch. iv.17. And so Jesus preached likewise.
"Of such is the kingdom of heaven:" that is, of such consists the kingdom of heaven. Or, to such belongs the kingdom of heaven, with its privileges: such as these are the members and subjects of God's church and kingdom on earth, and heirs of his kingdom in heaven, with all its riches and glory.
The chief difficulty is to determine the meaning of the word such: there being, as it is thought, an ambiguity in that expression. And it may be questioned whether we are hereby to understand, of such as resemble these little children is the kingdom of heaven: or of such little children as these. I shall therefore observe to you, how these words are paraphrased by some pious and learned expositors of scripture.
Upon these words an ancient writer observes: Christ does not say, of these, but of such is 'the kingdom of heaven: that is, of persons of simplicity, who are innocent, and free from vice ' and wickedness.' A modern writer explains the words in this manner: Of these, and such like. Christ does not exclude children, when he includes the adult, who are like them.' Another learned interpreter of our time thus paraphraseth the words of the text. • Do not 'hinder little children from coming to me. For it is these, and men qualified like these, with 'innocence, humility, and a teachable disposition, free from all prejudices, and customs of sinning, 'that are the only fit persons to be made members of my church on earth, and inheritors of the 'kingdom of God in heaven.'
And we are farther assured, that our Lord intended to say: 'Of such as are like these little 'children is the kingdom of heaven;' because he does expressly recommend resemblance in what follows in St. Mark and St. Luke. "Verily, I say unto you: Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of heaven as a little child, shall not enter therein." And I think, the other sense, though not so certain, ought not to be quite set aside: that is, to these and such little children, '(as well as those who are like them) belongs the kingdom of heaven.'
However, it is fit we should consider what Christ recommends in these words, and wherein they who are adult, and grown up to years of understanding, ought to resemble little children. Let me mention three or four things: freedom from prejudice, or openness to conviction: freedom from pride, or humility: freedom from worldly affections, or indifference to earthly things: and finally, freedom from custom of sinning, or innocence.
1. One thing observable in little children is freedom from prejudices, or openness to conviction; which is one great part of a teachable disposition. Indeed, they do not know the truth. But then, neither are they prejudiced against it: and by that means they are ready to receive it, when proposed to them. This is a property which all ought to aim at, and to preserve so long as they are imperfect in knowledge. The want of this temper hindered the Jews from receiving Jesus, and the truths he taught. They had a prejudice, a false and groundless notion, that the expected Messiah would be an earthly prince and powerful monarch, and would set up a worldly kingdom on this earth; in the civil advantages of which his servants and followers should partake: whereas it was a spiritual empire in the hearts, and over the lives of men, and a kingdom of righteousness that he was to introduce, in order to prepare men for the services and enjoyments of the heavenly life.
Theophyl. in Evang. p. 112. 1
Luc. Bru. ap. Pol. Syn.
Dr. S. Clarke.
It must be of great advantage, to be free from that prejudice, or any other like it: and to be determined to quit any notion, when good evidence to the contrary is produced.
2. Another thing observable in children, and in which others ought to resemble them, is freedom from pride or humility. This temper also renders men teachable and tractable, and susceptible of improvement in knowledge and virtue: whereas conceit is a most effectual bar to improvement of every kind. They who are opinionated of their knowledge and wisdom, or of their eminent character, and noble exploits and services, will not bear to be admonished, nor submit to receive new truths and farther discoveries, how well soever recommended.
Here we cannot avoid recollecting those words of our Lord, where he expresseth his cheerful acquiescence in the success of his ministry, and says: "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth: because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes," Matt. xi. 25.
"Hid from the wise and prudent:" not from those who were really so: but from those who were so esteemed by many, and who were opinionated of their own knowledge and wisdom, and their reputation in the world: whilst the doctrines and truths of the gospel were understood, believed, and embraced by babes: men of inferior station and condition, meaner attainments, and less conceited of themselves, and perhaps despised by others. But not being greatly conceited, they hearkened to instruction, and discerned and embraced the truths taught and proposed to them.
3. Another thing observable in children is freedom from earthly affections, or indifference about the great things of this world: such as riches, honour, and preferment. This is so obvious, not only in little children and infants, but in all very young persons in general, that parents, and others of experience in life, are oftentimes not a little concerned at it, lest they should not duly regard their temporal interests. And they think it expedient to shew them the use and value of these things, and by frequent observations infuse at least a small degree of ambition, and some worldly-mindedness into their constitution.
But our blessed Lord, without undervaluing, or depreciating any of the comforts of this life, recommends, and highly esteems, as you well know, a judicious contempt of all earthly things,. and a determined preference of truth and integrity, the favour of God, and a title to the heavenly happiness, above all earthly honours, possessions and enjoyments. And he often declares, that he who is not willing to part with what he has of these things for his sake, if the circumstances he is brought into should require it, cannot be his disciple, or approve himself a lover of truth.
The necessity of resembling little children in indifference to riches, or in a freedom from inordinate affection for them, is illustrated by a history, which follows the text, of the rich man, who when directed by Christ to go, and sell what he had, and give to the poor; assuring him withal, that then he should have treasure in heaven; "went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions."
The necessity of resembling little children in freedom from ambition, or an immoderate desire of grandeur and preferment, Christ taught his own disciples in particular. For, when they had asked him, "who should be greatest in the kingdom of heaven," supposing the kingdom of the Messiah would have in it much honour and power, "he 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. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself, as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven," Matt. xviii. 1-4.
4. Another thing, in which others ought to resemble little children, is freedom from custom of sinning, or innocence. Little children, and infants, such as most, or all those were who were now brought to Christ, are universally allowed to be free from actual sin. They have as yet made no wrong choice: they have done no evil thing. And others, who have sinned, in order to partake of the kingdom of God, are to become like them, by washing away their sins with the tears of unfeigned sorrow, by reformation and amendment, by ceasing to do evil, and being free from the habitual and allowed practice of all iniquity.
Of such as these consists the kingdom of heaven. To those who in these things resemble little children belongs the kingdom of God. Such will receive the gospel. They will come into the kingdom of the Messiah. They will continue true members and faithful subjects of it, and finally inherit all the glory and happiness of the kingdom of God above.