Our Savior here speaks of offences, or scandals,
I. In general, Matt. 18:7. Having mentioned the offending of little ones, he takes occasion to speak more generally of offences. That is an offence, 1. Which occasions guilt, which by enticement or affrightment tends to draw men from that which is good to that which is evil. 2. Which occasions grief, which makes the heart of the righteous sad. Now, concerning offences, Christ here tells them,
(1.) That they were certain things; It must needs be, that offences come. When we are sure there is danger, we should be the better armed. Not that Christ’s word necessitates any man to offend, but it is a prediction upon a view of the causes; considering the subtlety and malice of Satan, the weakness and depravity of men’s hearts, and the foolishness that is found there, it is morally impossible but that there should be offences; and God has determined to permit them for wise and holy ends, that both they which are perfect, and they which are not, may be made manifest. See 1 Cor. 11:19; Dan. 11:35. Being told, before, that there will be seducers, tempters, persecutors, and many bad examples, let us stand upon our guard, Matt. 24:24; Acts 20:29, 30.
(2.) That they would be woeful things, and the consequence of them fatal. Here is a double woe annexed to offences:
[1.] A woe to the careless and unguarded, to whom the offence is given; Woe to the world because of offences. The obstructions and oppositions given to faith and holiness in all places are the bane and plague of mankind, and the ruin of thousands. This present world is an evil world, it is so full of offences, of sins, and snares, and sorrows; a dangerous road we travel, full of stumbling-blocks, precipices, and false guides. Woe to the world. As for those whom God hath chosen and called out of the world, and delivered from it, they are preserved by the power of God from the prejudice of these offences, are helped over all these stones of stumbling. They that love God’s law have great peace, and nothing shall offend them, Ps. 119:165.
[2.] A woe to the wicked, who wilfully give the offence; But woe to that man by whom the offence comes. Though it must needs be, that the offence will come, that will be no excuse for the offenders. Note, Though God makes the sins of sinners to serve his purposes, that will not secure them from his wrath; and the guilt will be laid at the door of those who give the offence, though they also fall under a woe who take it. Note, They who any way hinder the salvation of others, will find their own condemnation the more intolerable, like Jeroboam, who sinned, and made Israel to sin. This woe is the moral of that judicial law (Exod. 21:33-22:6), that he who opened the pit, and kindled the fire, was accountable for all the damage that ensued. The antichristian generation, by whom came the great offence, will fall under this woe, for their delusion of sinners (2 Thess. 2:11, 12), and their persecutions of saints (Rev. 17:1, 2, 6), for the righteous God will reckon with those who ruin the eternal interests of precious souls, and the temporal interests of precious saints; for precious in the sight of the Lord is the blood of souls and the blood of saints; and men will be reckoned with, not only for their doings, but for the fruit of their doings, the mischief done by them.
II. In particular, Christ here speaks of offences given,
1. By us to ourselves, which is expressed by our hand or foot offending us; in such a case, it must be cut off, Matt. 18:8, 9. This Christ had said before (Matt. 5:29, 30), where it especially refers to seventh-commandment sins; here it is taken more generally. Note, Those hard sayings of Christ, which are displeasing to flesh and blood, need to be repeated to us again and again, and all little enough. Now observe,
(1.) What it is that is here enjoined. We must part with an eye, or a hand, or a foot, that is, that, whatever it is, which is dear to us, when it proves unavoidably an occasion of sin to us. Note, [1.] Many prevailing temptations to sin arise from within ourselves; our own eyes and hands offend us; if there were never a devil to tempt us, we should be drawn away of our own lust: nay, those things which in themselves are good, and may be used as instruments of good, even those, through the corruptions of our hearts, prove snares to us, incline us to sin, and hinder us in duty. [2.] In such a case, we must, as far as lawfully we may, part with that which we cannot keep without being entangled in sin by it. First, It is certain, the inward lust must be mortified, though it be dear to us as an eye, or a hand. The flesh, with its affections and lusts, must be mortified, Gal. 5:24. The body of sin must be destroyed; corrupt inclinations and appetites must be checked and crossed; the beloved lust, that has been rolled under the tongue as a sweet morsel, must be abandoned with abhorrence. Secondly, The outward occasions of sin must be avoided, though we thereby put as great a violence upon ourselves as it would be to cut off a hand, or pluck out an eye. When Abraham quitted his native country, for fear of being ensnared in the idolatry of it, and when Moses quitted Pharaoh’s court, for fear of being entangled in the sinful pleasures of it, there was a right hand cut off. We must think nothing too dear to part with, for the keeping of a good conscience.
(2.) Upon what inducement this is required; It is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than, having two hands, to be cast into hell. The argument is taken from the future state, from heaven and hell; thence are fetched the most cogent dissuasives from sin. The argument is the same with that of the apostle, Rom. 8:13. [1.] If we live after the flesh, we shall die; having two eyes, no breaches made upon the body of sin, inbred corruption like Adonijah never displeased, we shall be cast into hell-fire. [2.] If we through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body, we shall live; that is meant by our entering into life maimed, that is, the body of sin maimed; and it is but maimed at the best, while we are in this world. If the right hand of the old man be cut off, and its right eye be plucked out, its chief policies blasted and powers broken, it is well; but there is still an eye and a hand remaining, with which it will struggle. They that are Christ’s have nailed the flesh to the cross, but it is not yet dead; its life is prolonged, but its dominion taken away (Dan. 7:12), and the deadly wound given it, that shall not be healed.
1. Concerning offences given by us to others, especially Christ’s little ones, which we are here charged to take heed of, pursuant to what he had said, Matt. 18:6. Observe,
(1.) The caution itself; Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones. This is spoken to the disciples. As Christ will be displeased with enemies of his church, if they wrong any of the members of it, even the least, so he will be displeased with the great ones of the church, if they despise the little ones of it. “You that are striving who shall be greatest, take heed lest in this contest you despise the little ones.” We may understand it literally of little children; of them Christ was speaking, Matt. 18:2, 4. The infant seed of the faithful belong to the family of Christ, and are not to be despised. Or, figuratively; true but weak believers are these little ones, who in their outward condition, or the frame of their spirits, are like little children, the lambs of Christ’s flock.
[1.] We must not despise them, not think meanly of them, as lambs despised, Job 12:5. We must not make a jest of their infirmities, not look upon them with contempt, not conduct ourselves scornfully or disdainfully toward them, as if we cared not what became of them; we must not say, “Though they be offended, and grieved, and stumble, what is that to us?” Nor should we make a slight matter of doing that which will entangle and perplex them. This despising of the little ones is what we are largely cautioned against, Rom. 14:3, 10, 15, 20, 21. We must not impose upon the consciences of others, nor bring them into subjection to our humours, as they do who say to men’s souls, Bow down, that we may go over. There is a respect owing to the conscience of every man who appears to be conscientious.
[2.] We must take heed that we do not despise them; we must be afraid of the sin, and be very cautious what we say and do, lest we should through inadvertency give offence to Christ’s little ones, lest we put contempt upon them, without being aware of it. There were those that hated them, and cast them out, and yet said, Let the Lord be glorified. And we must be afraid of the punishment; “Take heed of despising them, for it is at your peril if you do.”
(2.) The reasons to enforce the caution. We must not look upon these little ones as contemptible, because really they are considerable. Let not earth despise those whom heaven respects; let not those be looked upon by us with respect, as his favourites. To prove that the little ones which believe in Christ are worthy to be respected, consider,
[1.] The ministration of the good angels about them; In heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father. This Christ saith to us, and we may take it upon his word, who came from heaven to let us know what is done there by the world of angels. Two things he lets us know concerning them,
First, That they are the little ones’ angels. God’s angels are theirs; for all his is ours, if we be Christ’s. 1 Cor. 3:22. They are theirs; for they have a charge concerning them to minister for their good (Heb. 1:14), to pitch their tents about them, and bear them up in their arms. Some have imagined that every particular saint has a guardian angel; but why should we suppose this, when we are sure that every particular saint, when there is occasion, has a guard of angels? This is particularly applied here to the little ones, because they are most despised and most exposed. They have but little that they can call their own, but they can look by faith on the heavenly hosts, and call them theirs. While the great ones of the world have honourable men for their retinue and guards, the little ones of the church are attended with glorious angels; which bespeaks not only their dignity, but the danger those run themselves upon, who despise and abuse them. It is bad being enemies to those who are so guarded; and it is good having God for our God, for then we have his angels for our angels.
Secondly, That they always behold the face of the Father in heaven. This bespeaks, 1. The angels’ continual felicity and honour. The happiness of heaven consists in the vision of God, seeing him face to face as he is, beholding his beauty; this the angels have without interruption; when they are ministering to us on earth, yet even then by contemplation they behold the face of God, for they are full of eyes within. Gabriel, when speaking to Zecharias, yet stands in the presence of God, Rev. 4:8; Luke 1:19. The expression intimates, as some think, the special dignity and honour of the little ones’ angels; the prime ministers of state are said to see the king’s face (Est. 1:14), as if the strongest angels had the charge of the weakest saints. 2. It bespeaks their continual readiness to minister to the saints. They behold the face of God, expecting to receive orders from him what to do for the good of the saints. As the eyes of the servant are to the hand of his master, ready to go or come upon the least beck, so the eyes of the angels are upon the face of God, waiting for the intimations of his will, which those winged messengers fly swiftly to fulfil; they go and return like a flash of lightning, Ezek. 1:14. If we would behold the face of God in glory hereafter, as the angels do (Luke 20:36), we must behold the face of God now, in readiness to our duty, as they do, Acts 9:6.
[2.] The gracious design of Christ concerning them (Matt. 18:11); For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. This is a reason, First, Why the little ones’ angels have such a charge concerning them, and attend upon them; it is in pursuance of Christ’s design to save them. Note, The ministration of angels is founded in the mediation of Christ; through him angels are reconciled to us; and, when they celebrated God’s goodwill toward men, to it they annexed their own. Secondly, Why they are not to be despised; because Christ came to save them, to save them that are lost, the little ones that are lost in their own eyes (Isa. 66:3), that are at a loss within themselves. Or rather, the children of men. Note, 1. Our souls by nature are lost souls; as a traveller is lost, that is out of his way, as a convicted prisoner is lost. God lost the service of fallen man, lost the honour he should have had from him. 2. Christ’s errand into the world was to save that which was lost, to reduce us to our allegiance, restore us to our work, reinstate us in our privileges, and so to put us into the right way that leads to our great end; to save those that are spiritually lost from being eternally so. 3. This is a good reason why the least and weakest believers should not be despised or offended. If Christ put such a value upon them, let us not undervalue them. If he denied himself so much for their salvation, surely we should deny ourselves for their edification and consolation. See this argument urged, Rom. 14:15; 1 Cor. 8:11, 12. Nay, if Christ came into the world to save souls, and his heart is so much upon that work, he will reckon severely with those that obstruct and hinder it, by obstructing the progress of those that are setting their faces heavenward, and so thwart his great design.
[3.] The tender regard which our heavenly Father has to these little ones, and his concern for their welfare. This is illustrated by a comparison, Matt. 18:12-14. Observe the gradation of the argument; the angels of God are their servants, the Son of God is their Saviour, and, to complete their honour, God himself is their Friend. None shall pluck them out of my Father’s hand, John 10:28.
Here is, First, The comparison, Matt. 18:12, 13. The owner that had lost one sheep out of a hundred, does not slight it, but diligently enquires after it, is greatly pleased when he has found it, and has in that a sensible and affecting joy, more than in the ninety and nine that wandered not. The fear he was in of losing that one, and the surprise of finding it, add to the joy. Now this is applicable, 1. To the state of fallen man in general; he is strayed like a lost sheep, the angels that stood were as the ninety-nine that never went astray; wandering man is sought upon the mountains, which Christ, in great fatigue, traversed in pursuit of him, and he is found; which is a matter of joy. Greater joy there is in heaven for returning sinners than for remaining angels. 2. To particular believers, who are offended and put out of their way by the stumbling-blocks that are laid in their way, or the wiles of those who seduce them out of the way. Now though but one of a hundred should hereby be driven off, as sheep easily are, yet that one shall be looked after with a great deal of care, the return of it welcomed with a great deal of pleasure; and therefore the wrong done to it, no doubt, will be reckoned for with a great deal of displeasure. If there be joy in heaven for the finding of one of these little ones, there is wrath in heaven for the offending of them. Note, God is graciously concerned, not only for his flock in general, but for every lamb, or sheep, that belongs to it. Though they are many, yet out of those many he can easily miss one, for he is a great Shepherd, but not so easily lose it, for he is a good Shepherd, and takes a more particular cognizance of his flock than ever any did; for he calls his own sheep by name, John 10:3. See a full exposition of this parable, Ezek. 34:2, 10, 16, 19.
Secondly, The application of this comparison (Matt. 18:14); It is not the will of your Father, that one of these little ones should perish. More is implied than is expressed. It is not his will that any should perish, but, 1. It is his will, that these little ones should be saved; it is the will of his design and delight: he has designed it, and set his heart upon it, and he will effect it; it is the will of his precept, that all should do what they can to further it, and nothing to hinder it. 2. This care extends itself to every particular member of the flock, even the meanest. We think if but one or two be offended and ensnared, it is no great matter, we need not mind it; but God’s thoughts of love and tenderness are above ours. 3. It is intimated that those who do any thing by which any of these little ones are brought into danger of perishing, contradict the will of God, and highly provoke him; and though they cannot prevail in it, yet they will be reckoned with for it by him, who, in his saints, as in other things, is jealous of his honour, and will not bear to have it trampled on. See Isa. 3:15; What mean ye, that ye beat my people? Ps. 76:8, 9.
Observe, Christ called God, Matt. 18:19; my Father which is in heaven; he calls him, Matt. 18:14; your Father which is in heaven; intimating that he is not ashamed to call his poor disciples brethren; for have not he and they one Father? I ascend to my Father and your Father (John 20:17); therefore ours because his. This intimates likewise the ground of the safety of his little ones; that God is their Father, and is therefore inclined to succour them. A father takes care of all his children, but is particularly tender of the little ones, Gen. 33:13. He is their Father in heaven, a place of prospect, and therefore he sees all the indignities offered them; and a place of power, therefore he is able to avenge them. This comforts offended little ones, that their Witness is in heaven (Job 16:19), their Judge is there, Ps. 68:5.