“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 which is in heaven.
Although we have on a former occasion expressed such views as we had on this text, yet at the request of brother Elias Newkirk, we will offer a few remarks further on the subject.
An ambitious spirit unbecoming the followers of the meek and lowly Lamb of God had been detected in the disciples, in agitating the question of their comparative greatness, and as they could not settle the matter to their mutual satisfaction, they appealed to our Lord for a decision; whereupon Jesus called a little child unto him and set him in the midst of them, and said, “Verily I say unto you, expect ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” In this connection our Lord gave them such instructions and rules for their social government as should always be applicable to his church and people throughout all time. We shall not attempt in this article to comment on all the rules of order enjoined upon the members of the church of Christ in this chapter, but dwell particularly on what we understand to be embraced in the text proposed for consideration. In doing that we will call attention to the solemn admonition given to all the disciples, to take heed that they despise not one of these little ones. The command to take heed implies that through inattention, thoughtlessness, or without direct design, the error against which they are warned may be committed even by Christians. Care and close and constant attention is required that the little ones be not overlooked, or their place and importance in the house or kingdom of God be not underrated. Aspirants for distinguishing positions will be apt to bring themselves into notice; but those who are more diffident and childlike may, unless great heed be taken, be overlooked, neglected or forgotten, or they may come to be regarded as of less importance in the church of God.
Two causes may tend to this result. First, the humble and childlike humility of the little ones make them unassuming and retiring, for they feel themselves to be less than the least of all the saints, and willing to be servants or door-keepers, and to let others whom they esteem better than themselves occupy more conspicuous or exalted places. Secondly, the fleshly pride and vanity which is too frequently betrayed, unless closely watched and promptly checked, will predominate, as in the example presented in the first verse of this chapter, and in its ascendency tempt us either to think more highly of ourselves than we ought, or be attracted by the splendid appearance of some others, so that the humble, quiet, childlike little ones fail to be appreciated. Where the little ones are wantonly thrust aside, and that which is lame is turned out of the way by the arrogance or wantonness of any one, God will avenge the oppressed; but woe to him by whom the offence cometh. But while Christians are here in the flesh, the utmost vigilance is required to watch over our prejudices and partialities, lest, even undesignedly, we despise one of these little ones. It is not enough that we may say we have not wounded the feelings, disturbed the peace, or disregarded the expressed wishes of such. It may well be presumed that many a wound has been keenly felt in the heart of an humble child of God which has festered, unseen by any eye but that which watches over these little ones, causing grief untold, and perhaps unutterable, leading the wounded child to reason thus: O that I were worthy of the esteem of those whom I so dearly love, but while they show strong appreciation of the society, the gifts, or the conversation of others who are so far my superiors, they treat me as I deserve as though they have little or no confidence in me. We are commanded to be kindly affectioned one towards another, and to be especially careful in regard to those who are weak and tender; what care should we take lest we despise one of these little ones.
But, who are these little ones? All who enter into the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. This truth is not only declared by our Lord in the third verse of this chapter, but it is fully implied in his declaration to Nicodemus. “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God;” and “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God (John 3:3,5).” All who are born again, of incorruptible seed by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever become “new born babes.” (See I Peter 1:23 and 2:2.) In that birth not only are they manifested as children, but as very little children. Whatever may be their age in the flesh, or whatever may be their capacity, strength, physical or mental, if they are born again, that which is born of the Spirit is spirit, and among the fruits of that spirit will be found childlike humility. Like little children, very small, they are dependent, reliant, and desire the sincere milk of the word that they may grow thereby. No other growth is compatible with their heavenly birth.
All who enter the kingdom of our God must enter as little children, and the more they learn, experience or know of God and of spiritual things, the smaller they will feel themselves to be, and the smaller they are in their own esteem, the higher they will stand in the estimation of their brethren. When Christians become vain in their imaginations, heady and high-minded, God will provide a way to humble them. They become sensitive, and if their importance is not acknowledged, they are mortified and offended. A gospel course, in such cases, will be very apt to offend them. But woe unto him who shall offend one of these little ones which believe in Jesus. “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.”
As a consideration calculated to impress the solemn admonition more deeply on the minds of the disciples, Jesus added the following emphatic declaration: “For I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.” The words their angels are the same in signification as their spirits. For spirits, when spoken of in distinction from the bodies, are called angels, as in the case of Peter when he had been delivered from prison, he came to the house of Mary and knocked for admittance. When the damsel affirmed that Peter was at the gate, they thinking it impossible that he could be there in his body, concluded that it was his angel, or spirit, or ghost. In the same manner the word was used by the Saddusees in denying the resurrection of the dead, etc.
God’s presence is heaven to all who are born of him, and although our bodies are dead because of sin, the spirit within us, which is born of the Spirit of God, is life, because of righteousness, and although flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, yet we worship God in the spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. “In heaven,” in the spiritual presence of God, the spirit, or angel, of the child of God is in communion with God, in his presence, enjoying his presence, and behold his face, for he reveals himself unto them as he does not to the world. No man hath seen the Father at any time, but the Father reveals his face to the faith of his elect, and every one that hath seen the Son hath seen the Father also; but not with their mortal eyes or natural perceptions. Only to their faith, spirit or angels, is he revealed. Always when in heaven, or in a heavenly frame, they behold his face, and derive all their consolation from his presence, in which they have fullness of joy, and at his right hand they have pleasure forevermore.
Seeing then that these little ones which believe in Jesus are in spirit held in communion with the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, how presumptuously wicked for us to despise or offend them. God will avenge them, as his own elect who cry unto him day and night, and they shall certainly triumph over all their enemies.
February 1, 1868.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 7
Pages 134 - 137