The following thoughts are submitted in compliance with the request of the dear sister in Pennsylvania, with whom I met at the Chemung Association, who desired me to write through the SIGNS OF THE TIMES, particularly on the caption from our Lord recorded in Matthew xviii. 6, 10: “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.” “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.”
In the ordering of his kingdom, which is not of this world, and which shall never be destroyed, it was needful that the law of the Lord should be given to his subjects, without their depending on the laws of earthly authorities for guidance. This new kingdom of Jesus is perfect and complete in itself, in laws, in ordinances, in resources, in defense, and in every particular; and if nothing is a dependent upon earthly powers, whether political, social or moral. In the inspired law, the man of god is “perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” There is no need of humanly-devised additions or improvements upon this perfect law, nor are the subjects of this King at liberty to go even to Moses for the rule of their deportment. The law of sin and death is fulfilled and blotted out by the perfect work of our great Redeemer, before this new kingdom can be revealed. This is experienced personally by each one in whom the perfect law of liberty in Christ Jesus is revealed. Now all things are new to the subject of this wondrous grace. In this new kingdom, instead of that rigorous precept which requires “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth,” the new law enjoins “that ye resist not evil,” “Love your enemies,” &c., as in Matthew v. 38-48. As it is evident that the law of this kingdom is adapted to no natural people, so also no law of carnal commandment is adapted to this kingdom which is not of this world, and the attempt to introduce any other law except the law of Christ always brings confusion, called by our Lord, “hell-fire.” – Matt. v. 22. Now it must be remembered that in this new dispensation “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” – Rom. xiii. 10. This is the key to the true understanding of every precept of our King. In this wonderful kingdom every subject is so perfectly one with the King that each of them is a member of his body; not merely in a figurative or metaphorical sense, but really and vitally ONE WITH HIM, so that whoso receiveth for one of them, receiveth him. “In all their afflictions he was afflicted.” – Isa. lxiii. 9. Then it becomes a very important inquiry to every lover of the Lord Jesus, how are we to know these “little ones?” Their peculiar characteristic mark is given in this immediate connection. They believe in Jesus, and are there by manifested as little ones No hypocrite or deceived one can imitate this peculiar mark of the child of God. Whoever sees the Lord is at once in a helpless little one, and feels himself, with Isaiah, undone; and confesses himself, with Job, vile; asks, with the Psalmist, “Of what is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?” And when he hears the life-giving word of Jesus, confesses himself, with Paul, “less than the least of all saints.” The hypocrite may pretend to humility, but cannot feel himself unworthy. All others, except these little ones, in some sense believe in themselves, either trusting in Moses, or some other fancied strength of their own; but they who have been cut off from all self-dependence are sown little and utterly without strength that they are constrained to rest alone on the abounding grace of our Lord Jesus as their only hope for salvation, saying, “Whom have I in heaven [and none upon earth I desire] beside thee? My flesh and my heart faileth; God, the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Such a helpless one can truly say, “I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all thy works.” – Psalm lxxiii. 25, 26, 28. This is the little one who is referred to in the admonition under consideration. And it is important to consider seriously the soul morning from the lips of the great Judge of quick and dead. It is a fearful thing to disregard that word which speaks from heaven, and to defy him whose awful voice shakes the very heaven.
But to whom was the serious caution addressed? Primarily, we are told in the first verse of this chapter, it was in reply to the aspiring inquiry of his disciples, not to the unbelieving world of his enemies. The just retribution of the wrath of God, when there cup of iniquity is filled in the persecution of his saints, will be poured out an everlasting hopeless ruin upon the nation of them that know not God, and revel in the blood of his saints. But this warning was not spoken to them. It was to his disciples then, and by the apostle Matthew it is recorded for the learning of all in every age and place who have obtained like precious faith; as the Lord enjoined, “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”
In regard to offending these little ones, our natural reason may mislead us into mistaking the arousing of the carnal resentment of aid christian for the offending referred to in the text. A little care will show the fallacy of this error. It is said of them that “in heaven their angels to always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.” By this expression I understand that the offense is against that spirit of Christ which dwells in every one that is born of God. To excite the resentment of the old nature of a christian, is a very different thing from offending or grieving the spirit of Christ, which in heaven always stands approved before God. As in his presence is fullness of joy, so in the hiding of his face by our transgressions we experience bitterness of grief, in comparison with which all mere physical suffering is light. So Peter, when the Lord looked on him, went out and wept bitterly; and David, when he had been delivered from his transgression, praising God with his whole heart, confesses that his soul was delivered from the lowest hell. Those who have seen affliction by the rod of his wrath, can fully a test the declaration in Hebrews x. 31: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
As intimated above, the distinction must be observed between the natural and of the spiritual mind in the christian, and taking heed that ye despise not one of these little ones that believe in Jesus. The spirit of Christ never prompts those who were led by it to despise any, much less any little ones which believe in Jesus. Rather, by that meek spirit we feel to pity even those whose blindness is manifest in opposing the truth. But, on the other hand, it is presumptuous sin for any to claim immunity from reproof in error willfully persisted in, and seek shelter from the two-edged sword of inspired truth under an assumed humility, which they do not feel, and appeal to this scripture to cover their willful hypocrisy. The law of our King is too sacred to be trifled with, as a lawyer might distort human law to deceive mortals, whose breath as in their nostrils. If any child of God is ever so far misled by the carnal mind as to attempt such a course, he will certainly suffer the chastening rod, and in bitterness of soul have to cry for the forgiveness of his sin. And terrible as is this fearful experience, it is far preferable to that of escape from chastisement, which by the inspired testimony proves that he who so escapes the rod is a bastard, and not a son.
On one occasion a wonderful vision saved Peter from despising one of these little ones, and he learn that, contrary to the idea which had prevailed among the Jews for thousands of years, God had a people among the Gentiles. And so strong was the hold which this accepted notion had upon the minds of Jewish believers, that it was needful that Peter should rehearse the whole matter unto them, when they glorified God for the very fact on which they had just before arraigned Peter. It is important to our own peace that we be guarded against this as well as every error. If we hold any error, is just as false after it has been accepted a thousand years as when it was first introduced as an innovation upon the simplicity of the gospel of Christ. May the power of divine grace keep all his saints from error and delusion of every form, whether new or old, and forbid that we should ever be deceived by the deceitfulness of sin so as to despise one of these little ones, whose angels in heaven always behold the face of the Father which is in heaven.
It may be asked, How shall we know these little ones whom we are warned not to despise? They’re all marked with a peculiar seal of the workmanship of our God, and they bear the fruits which is found nowhere else. The spirit of Christ in them produces love to the truth as it is in Jesus, and all the gracious fruit mentioned in Galatians v. 22, 23. But also the experience a distressing conflict with another in dwelling principle, which is of the flesh; and the warfare is so severe that they have to cry for deliverance, which comes only through our Lord Jesus Christ. In the ceaseless struggle in which these opposing elements are engaged, it is not strains that the little one often finds that the good he would do is left undone, while the evil which you would not, that he does. Distressed with the unending struggle, and discouraged with fruitless efforts to work righteousness, he has to mourn the bondage of corruption which oppresses him, and often is ready to despair, and record the verdict of condemnation against himself. But the inspiring test is presented, “Love is of God; and everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.” Surely, he feels, I can not be mistaken in that unspeakable emotion of love which burns in my heart at the thought of the dear name of Jesus, on which might trembling hope are lies. Hope springs of fresh, yet tremblingly, and he cries, “Lord, I believe! help the mind unbelief!” Then the apostolic direction applies to the case, “Him that is weak and the faith receive ye.” – Romans xiv. 1. “What God hath cleansed, call not that common.” The church should ever be ready gladly to receive such a weak one into her fellowship, and to support and strengthen him with her protection and comfort, as a tender nurse cares for a helpless babe. In the kingdom of Jesus weakness is not a crime, nor is conscious unworthiness a barrier to admission into the shelter of his fold. Let the church take heed that they despise not one of these little ones.
Sometimes our natural reason may present a very plausible argument in favor of denying the fellowship of the church to one of these little ones, who may have been particularly injurious to us in the past, as was the case with Ananias and Saul; but the evidence that God hath cleansed such an individual should be sufficient for us, and we have no right to go back of that work to ask whether the little one has been in former time a bloody Manasseh, a persecuting Saul, a guilty Mary, or an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile, like Nathaniel. Indeed, the power of the grace of God is more clearly manifest before man in calling a raging maniac to sit at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, then in the case of one who by the restraining mercy of God has been capped within the bounds of morality. “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones.”
Then, when we have publicly confessed our faith in Christ Jesus by following him in baptism, the admonition still applies to all our relations with them. If we remember that what is done to the least one of these, is done to our Lord, have tender in careful we should be lest we offend against the generation of the children of God! Let us therefore endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, walk in the Spirit, and let our love one to another be fervent and without dissimulation.
With sincere christian fellowship and love to sister Mary A. Watkins, (at whose request this is written,) and to all the dear “little ones” who love the truth as it is in Jesus, I am, as ever, unworthily in the faith that is in Christ Jesus, less in the least of all,
WILLIAM L. BEEBE.
Longwood, Ontario, Canada, July 22, 1880.
Signs of the Times
Volume 48, No. 16
August 15, 1880