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OF BECOMING LIKE LITTLE CHILDREN.
MATT. Xviii. 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.
THIS was the answer our Lord was pleased to give his disciples when they asked him, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? ver. 1. Which question was occasioned by his telling them, ch. xvii. 23, that though he was to be betrayed and killed, yet the third day he should be raised again; which resurrection of his they took to be the beginning of his glorious reign upon earth, upon which their thoughts were very much bent, notwithstanding his plainly telling them, that his kingdom was not of this world; and that affliction and persecution here would be their portion and his. But still their heads were filled with the notion of his being their temporal prince and deliverer, and that his kingdom, though upon earth, (according to their expectations,) yet might well be styled by him a heavenly kingdom, for the present exceeding glory and happiness of it, in which it should excel all other kingdoms; as well as with respect to the future triumphant state
of it above.
And this put them upon asking, who should be greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
In Matt. xx. 20, we find the mother of Zebedee's children making a request, built upon the same notion, for her two sons, James and John, that the one might sit on his right hand, the other at his left in his kingdom. Of which preeminence the disciples were all so ambitious, that they were moved with indignation against James and John for pretending to it before the rest; and had warm disputes among themselves who should be the greatest". But our Lord checks their aspiring thoughts, by telling James and John they knew not what they asked, and putting them in mind of the bitter cup and bloody baptism which those must submit to and taste of who would be his followers; and assuring the rest of the ambitious contenders, that he that would be first and greatest should be the last and servant of all; even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
And that he might the more sensibly convince them of their mistake, in expecting worldly greatness from being his disciples, and how contrary all ambitious thoughts are to the temper of the gospel, he, in my text, called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, as the true emblem of a Christian; 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. As if he had said, Unless your temper be mightily changed from what it is, and you lay aside ambition and the regards of the world in following a Mark ix. 33.
being great in my
me, ye shall be so far from kingdom, that ye shall not at all enter into it, for this is by no means the spirit of my disciples; who, I expect, should be like me, meek and lowly in heart. And whosoever shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven; the truest Christian whilst here upon earth, and shall be the highest exalted in the regions of glory.
A little child then being, in our Lord's esteem, the lively emblem of a Christian; and he who is the Saviour of the world, and "hath opened the kingdom "of heaven to all believers," assuring us withal that there shall be no admission there for any but those that are of like temper and disposition; it will be worth our while to consider wherein we are to resemble little children, if we would be true disciples of our great and good Master, and have a wellgrounded hope of entering into his joy.
I. First then we shall inquire what it is to be converted, and become as little children. And,
II. Secondly, shew how necessary this is to our entering into the kingdom of heaven; and then, with a proper inference or two, conclude.
I. First, we will consider what it is to be converted, and to become like little children. And in general it is to change and alter, and new mould the temper and inclinations of our souls, till they become like those of a little child. This is implied in the word converted, which supposes different dispositions in the soul before, and which must be destroyed, and the contrary to them planted in their room. Every soul that is not like that of a little child must be made so, before the man can have the
temper and the hopes of a Christian. Here is a double task, we see, to be performed, the change of our present disposition, and the acquisition of a temper quite contrary to it; we must be converted, and then become as little children. The difficulty of which we shall sufficiently experience when we heartily set about it. For I believe, that upon inquiry we shall find there is something in the temper even of the best of us that is very much unlike this emblem of a true Christian, and from which therefore we must be converted, as we hope to enter into the kingdom of heaven; and which to be sincerely and effectually, and renewed in the spirit of our minds, we shall find a full employment for the remainder of our lives, how long soever they may be. Indeed nothing but the grace and assistance of Almighty God can enable us for so great an undertaking; but we can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth us; and who would never have made this necessary for us to accomplish, could we have been happy without it. It must be done, if we would be partakers of the glories and blisses of his kingdom; but our encouragement is, that he will so far assist us with his divine help, that the concurrence of our own sincere endeavours shall bring it happily to pass.
Thus much in general of the duty required of us, and the necessity of performing it; and of beginning it immediately, because of the great difficulty of doing it effectually. All which is designed to awaken your attention to what I shall now address myself to the particular consideration of, viz. what it is to be converted, and become as little children. For things of this nature ought by no means to be
trifled with, and heard carelessly and with indifference; since upon our agreeable practice depends our admission into the kingdom of heaven.
I. First then, to be converted, and to become as little children, is to sit loose to this present world, and be easy and satisfied with the condition in which God has placed us in it, though it be low and mean. This, it is evident, was our Lord's primary meaning when he spake the text, as we have seen from the occasion of it, and further appears from the words immediately following, whosoever shall humble himself, or be lowly in his thoughts and designs, and suit his mind to his circumstances, how indifferent soever they may be, as this little child, the same shall be greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Little children, (as we cannot but observe,) before they are corrupted by the world, are equally easy in a cottage and a palace; no discontents at their parents' circumstances or their own, provided the requests of nature, which are very modest, be but satisfied; and no higher aims or projects in their innocent heads, than cheerfully to enjoy their present lot. Now that which is nature in them, and proceeds from a happy ignorance of the mistaken sentiments and ill example of the world, that should be choice in us. And a wise choice indeed, to resolve to make the best of every state of life, to enjoy the present, and trust our divine Parent with the future.
To do this therefore ought to be every man's first and greatest care; and then to go on cheerfully in the duties of his present state and condition, in a fuil reliance upon divine Providence for the time to
and with so much indifference at least to