"He that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he (Matthew 11:11)."
The request for our views on this text will be found in our seventh number of the current volume, page 55. These words were not spoken in disparagement of John the Baptist; for, of all that had preceded him, his superior had not been found, even among the prophets and patriarchs. We are not told that John was greater than any of the Old Testament saints, but that among them that are born of women, none greater than he had appeared. He was a man sent from God, and his name was John (see John 1:6); and this name was given him by the angel of God (Luke 1:13). He came in the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as the messenger whom God sent before the face of the Messiah, and as the voice of one crying in the wilderness, etc. (Mark 1:1,2). He came in the spirit and power of Elias, who was translated; and he was the Elias which was to come (Matthew 4:5). He was a Baptist, and the honored administrator of the holy ordinance of baptism to our Lord Jesus Christ. All the prophets and the law prophesied until John.
"Notwithstanding" all this, "He that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."
There is, we think, a sense in which this characteristic (the least in the kingdom) belongs to our Redeemer himself. The term least, we do not understand to imply unimportant, less useful, less honored, or less in any point of real greatness; but the most humble, meek and lowly. And these lovely qualities were certainly possessed and manifested more fully and conspicuously in the person of our Redeemer, in his incarnation, life and deportment on earth, than in any of his members. He whose glory was with the Father before the world was (John 17:5); whose position was with the Father upon the Eternal Throne; who thought it not robbery to be equal with God; and who was with God in the beginning, and who was God; who is the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace; by whom and for whom all things are and were created; and by whom all things consist, whether they be principalities or powers, thrones or dominions, things visible or invisible; all are his workmanship, and all are sustained and controlled by him. But see him in his humble birth; see him in the manger; see him in subordination to his parents, serving as an humble apprentice to the carpenter's trade; see him a man of sorrow, familiar with grief, derided, insulted, reproached, persecuted, reviled, and set at naught by men; see him in agony in the garden; see him a prisoner at the bar of Pilate and of Herod; see him crowned with thorns, scourged, spit upon, and loaded with every indignity that wicked men could invent, and led away to the horrid tortures of the cross, bleeding, groaning, dying; and in all this not one complaining or revengeful word: as a sheep before his shearers, he was dumb, and opened not his mouth. See all this, and then say, was there ever such humility, meekness and lowliness of soul, as he exhibited on earth, before or since? Who, from such infinite height has humbled himself to such a depth? Who, from such unspeakable glory has willingly descended to such ignominy and humiliation? Who, that was so rich has ever volunteered to become so very poor? Who, from the adoration of shining angels and the worship of holy beings, has consented to become the scorn and derision of wicked men and devils? Who, beside the meek and lowly Lamb of God, was ever willing to be counted of no reputation? It is our impression that our dear Redeemer, in our text, referred to his own unexampled and unparalleled humiliation. He came under the law, he learned obedience, he humbled himself, even unto the death of the cross. He assumed all our infirmities; he took on him all our sins; he bore all our reproaches; he endured the cross and despised the shame; yet, beyond all controversy, he was and is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. He who washed his disciples' feet justly claimed that he was and is their Lord and Master.
But in the kingdom of heaven, among the disciples of Christ, whosoever manifests the greatest conformity to Christ in meekness, lowliness, in humility, is esteemed the greatest among the disciples. "When Ephriam spake trembling, he exalted himself in Israel; but when he offended in Baal, he died (Hosca 13:1)." So our Redeemer taught his disciples that the pathway to greatness was through the valley of humiliation. When his disciples displayed an ambition to be great, having failed to settle the question of pre-eminence in their discussions among themselves, they appealed to Jesus, saying, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" The reply of our Lord to this enquiry is the most clear and explicit commentary on the text proposed by brother Sellman that can be given. So far as it relates to the comparative humility and transcendent exaltation of the children of God, showing that he who is the most like Jesus in the grace of humility is greatest in the kingdom of heaven; not in self-esteem, or self-righteousness, nor in the esteem of the world, but in approaching nearest to the standard of true greatness, as shown by the example and precepts of Jesus. As, for instance, Paul, who claimed to be less than the least of all saints, and yet not a whit inferior to the chiefest of apostles, and in some respects at least greater than John the Baptist.
When the disciples asked Jesus, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven," how forcibly did he illustrate the doctrine of Christian humility and godly eminence. "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. Whosoever, therefore, shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 28:2-4)." And further he said, "And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name, receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a mill stone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea." By this divinely authorized standard, the more humble and child-like the disciple becomes, the greater will be his resemblance to the meek and lowly Savior, of whom he learns, and whose yoke he is called to bear. This true greatness does not consist in being more prominent in position, as John the Baptist or Paul were, for says Paul, "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal; and though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing (I Corinthians 13:1-3)." The poor little child of God, who has no gift of tongues, who can only lisp the name of his adorable Redeemer, if blessed with humility, is childlike, lamb-like and Christ-like; he is greater in the kingdom of heaven than those who possess the most eloquent and commanding powers of oratory, or shine the brightest in the eyes of men. The vain ambition of the two sons of Zebedee and their mother, that they might occupy distinguished places of prominence and honor in the kingdom which was about to be organized excited the other ten disciples with indignation against them. Instead of elevating, it depreciated them in the eyes of their brethren, as that yam ambition always does, when displayed among Christians. "But Jesus called them unto him and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you." No aristocratic distinctions, no despotic dominion, no lording over God's heritage, should ever be allowed in the church of God. "But whosoever will be great among you, let him by your minister." That is, to perform the duties of a waiting servant; "and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant," or (as in the margin) your slave (Matthew 20:26,27). Let such occupy the very lowest places, and let the humble be honored, for their child-like and unaspiring disposition; for "Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased, and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted." Scribes, Pharisees and hypocrites loved the chief places in the synagogues, and to be called Rabbi; but Jesus forbids such titles to his children. May we all learn of Jesus to be humble, holy, harmless and undefiled, and suppress within us all desire for any other greatness. When we glory, may it be only in the Lord.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
July 1, 1864.
Republished - THE REMNANT
Volume 10, No. 5