"Even so, it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish." (Matthew 18:14)
Should it please the Lord, we will attempt, Firstly, to notice these "little ones;" Secondly, to notice that they have many times great fears whether they shall perish at last or not; and, Thirdly, we shall notice that these fears are all groundless.
I. Our text says, "It is not the will of your Father that one of these little ones should perish." It appears by the connection of the words that these "little ones" are the dear children of God, the great God. Jesus Christ calls them His "little ones." They believe in His name. But it is very striking here to see their weakness; they are as weak as little children. The disciples came to Jesus, and asked Him a question: "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" (Matt. 18:1) There is that in our nature which wants to discover things that are hid from our view; and that nature the children have, even the children of the Lord Jesus Christ, and it is sometimes manifested; but it shows their weakness and ignorance. What a mercy it is we have such a compassionate Jesus, Shepherd, and Friend. "Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst"--what a humbling reproof to the question!--"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." (Matt. 18:1-3) It does not mean the conversion of their minds, merely to believe in God's word. A man may be converted a thousand times from one thing to another, and not have conversion of soul, and the new birth. It is plain here, that except you are brought to see your littleness and your nothingness, as a child, there is no hope of your entering into heaven.
It seems that Christ was speaking something like this when He was referring to His death and sufferings. Peter seemed willing to die and to suffer with Him. Peter professed great things for Christ; he said he was willing to follow Him to prison and death. When, however, the blessed Lord came nearer to His journey's end, He says to Peter, "Simon, Satan hath desired to have thee, that he may sift thee as wheat; but I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not." (Luke 22:31) But Peter told Jesus he would go with Him even unto death: "Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended." (Matt. 26:33) Jesus answered him and said, "This night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice." And when Peter came to the judgment-seat with Him he could make use of nothing but falsehood. When one came and said, "Thou art one of his disciples," he replied, "I know not the man." When another testified that he certainly was the man that was with Jesus, he said, "I know not what thou sayest," (Matt. 27:69-75) and backed his lie with an oath.
I believe that Peter, when he told Christ he would die with him, really meant what he said. But what are we, when left to the Devil? What was David? What was Noah? What was Lot? What was Solomon? We do not know half of our weakness and the power of the Devil, but as God opens it up to us. Then Jesus says to Peter, "When thou art converted"--when thou art converted. (Luke 22:32) Now Peter had had regeneration, and had been converted by the Spirit of God; for Jesus says, "Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven." (Matt. 16:17) But when Peter was converted he was changed in his mind, and restored by the love and power of God. He could then speak to the tempted with encouragement, and point them to a blessed Redeemer, that had "conquered death, and him that had the power of death, which is the Devil." (Heb. 2:14) He could "rejoice by the power of God, through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time." (1 Pet. 1:5) God will bring His people into a child-like view of their littleness in their own eyes, to be "little" in their own hearts. How often does the apostle John write to the "little children!" But, say you, there are "fathers" and "babes," and there are "young men and fathers." But I find that "fathers" are as bad when God leaves them, and as glad of a little succor from the breasts, as ever babes are. They are "fathers" in judgment, and "fathers" in the testimony of the faith that God gives them; but though they are "strong in the Lord and in the power of his might," God will bring them to feel little, very "little ones," in their own eyes.
This is very strikingly set forth in the account we have of the Apostle Paul. It is very evident from Paul's testimony, that he was engaged in a great work, and his labors were in a very great measure owned and blessed. It appears evident that Peter and the rest of the apostles had not that superior knowledge that God had given Paul nor such deep, mysterious views into the truth; for they all and everyone seemed to reverence him as being superior in atainments to them. Peter says, "There are many things" in brother Paul's declarations "hard to be understood" (2 Pet. 3:15,16)--that is, by the unlearned of God, unlearned by the teachings of the Holy Ghost; he does not mean the literally unlearned, but the unlearned by the teachings of God's Spirit--they that never could understand the mysterious language. Now if we come to look at the apostle's view that he had of himself, there is never a child of God in the world that would exactly agree with him; but they will agree not to differ with him, nor to be angry with him, nor to contend with him in a jealous way. The apostle says, "Unto me who am less than the least of all saints in this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." (Eph. 3:8)
Here is the father and the child, here is a great one and a little one--great in the infinite grace of God, but in himself the least, the very least. This is the very top-stone of realities in religion. How strikingly the Apostle Peter sets it forth, when he speaks of the Church of God: "Feed the flock of God that is among you, taking the oversight among them, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind." (1 Pet. 5:2) Then he speaks to the young to submit themselves unto the elders. Yea, he says, "All of you be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble" (1 Pet. 5:5)--the humble, the lowly, the "little ones," the fainting ones; those poor feeble ones that cannot do without the Lord, that can have nothing but what is from the Lord. So little and so feeble are they in their own eyes, and so unworthy of the least of the mercies of God, that they do know what it is at times in their very hearts and souls to say, Amen, to what the apostle said respecting God's Church. He says, "He has chosen the foolish things of the world, the weak things of the world, yea, and things that are not, to bring to nought things that are, that no flesh should glory in his presence." (1 Cor. 1:27-29) But "he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord." (v. 31)
These "little ones" are the people who are humble, and who think themselves so unworthy of God's notice that, if they attempt to pray, they think it is presumption to attempt to take His name into their polluted lips. God loves these "little ones," God admires these little things; they are His delight, His pleasure, and they shall live to honor and glory for ever and ever! What a sweet declaration is that where God says, "He that humbleth himself shall be exalted." (Luke 14:11) It does not mean that of his own nature, or of his own working, or of his own strength he can humble himself, nor can any one humble himself in his own judgment. You might as well talk of a man that can go and build up a ladder to reach the heavens, or take a telescope and count the stars and bring the number of them down, as talk of a man humbling himself, or humbling his fellow creatures in any way. The power can come from no one but from God. What a cutting question God puts to Job! He says, "Look on everyone that is proud and bring him low, and tread down the wicked in their place. Hide them in the dust together, and bind their faces in secret. Then will I also confess unto thee that thine own right hand can save thee." (Job 40:12-14) But till you can do that, there is no strength in you to humble yourself. That has never been, nor ever will be.
You may talk to men, and by your continual talking you may seem to observe some signs of humility in them; yet, at the same time, there is pride in their hearts, as much as ever there was in any mortal man that ever existed. It is not a feigned humility that God requires; it is a felt one. There never was a poor soul that was brought "little" in his own eyes, "little" in his own strength, "little" in his own knowledge, "little" in everything respecting himself, but who was made to feel so by grace. Grace does it all. Nothing can humble but grace; nothing can soften but grace. Not all the terrors and wrath of God can soften the heart, in its nature, before the power of God reaches it. The law working upon the heart and the conscience does not do what grace does; and, if ever you are brought to experience His grace, you will be filled with humility and brought to lie humbly at His feet. To all eternity the ungodly, with the wrath of God poured in upon their never-dying souls, will continue in a state of hardness while they are in existence; and when this life shall end, they will look up and curse God and their King to a never-ending eternity.
It is nothing but grace that can melt the soul and bring it to feel its own worthlessness and its own nothingness; and therefore God says that He giveth grace to the humble. Grace to humble him, grace to carry him through his time-state, grace to encourage him, and grace to bring him up again. These "little ones" are all dependent upon grace. God says, "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, (Ps. 8:2) He hath ordained praise. They are all babes and sucklings in their own feelings; for they cannot move, cannot proceed, but as they are favored by the Father of all mercies. They are just like a babe. They cannot speak a word but what they have been taught--they must be taught to eat and instructed in everything; they are dependent for everything all their life long. The Lord says, "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth," Here is the head, their true head. He says to May, "Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God." (John 20:17) He addresses them as His brethren, as the bone of our bone, the flesh of our flesh. He says, "I thank thee that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and revealed them unto babes"--unto babes--"even so Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight." (Matt. 11:25,26)
II. There is a Brother of ours in the presence of God who knows what it is to go like a little child to be taught, to be instructed, to be led, to be fed, to be protected, to be delivered; and all our help is entirely upon Him; when these little ones hang upon Him, they will be safe for ever and ever. How at times my soul goes out to the Lord when the Holy Ghost sweetly whispers into the ear that He carries the "lambs in his bosom, and gently leads those that are with young." He leads these little ones, His weak ones, and His feeble, stammering ones; He will safely lead them home to eternal glory. The centurion saw no one so unworthy as he was; but the Lord took him in hand. (Luke 7:7-9) If you have a child, or a servant, and come to see that there is that littleness, and a sight and sense of their own unworthiness, it leads you to have compassion for them more than you would for one that is not so. The Devil cannot bear the sight of a meek child of God. But it is a blessed mercy to be led to see one's own littleness and unworthiness.
It is evident that these little ones are favored of God; for the Lord has set His love upon them. Yet at times they are in such confusion, and have such sinkings, and have such things to pass through, that there are fears raised in their hearts whether it will be well in the end--whether they shall perish at last. And when this comes into the soul of one of these little ones, why, it is like a hell in the heart. "What!" says the soul, "to pass through this world, where all is misery, and be lost at last--to perish and never see Jesus, and be sunk where there is nothing but sorrow and gnashing of teeth!" It shakes him from head to foot! It makes his very heart tremble to think of it! It sinks him into black feelings, that he is ready to give it all up for lost, and say with Zion of old, "The Lord hath forsaken me, God hath forgotten to be gracious." "Aye," says David, "He hath shut up his tender mercies; will he be favorable no more?" Yea, my friends, Abraham was shaken here when God left him to a trial of himself and to the power of the Devil. But God came and lifted him up again; for he said, "Fear not, Abraham, for I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward." (Gen. 15:1)
When the Devil comes in the heart and raises up rebellion there, it shakes the strongest traveler and makes him sink; yea, and brings him to cry like a child for his Father to come to his help and his support, He begins to think how it will be in the end; and that crafty Devil of the bottomless pit terrifies him, and he is afraid there is nothing in his heart but the old man of sin. What a ransacking there is! The Devil will sometimes bring texts of Scripture. He will perhaps bring the parable of the ten virgins, and say that the soul may be like some of them, have merely an outward show. He never brings these when the poor soul has the oil of joy in the heart; he is quiet enough then about the five wise virgins, for his Master is there. But when He is gone, in comes carnal reasoning, and unbelief backs it by crediting what the Devil has said, "Well," says the Devil, "there were ten virgins, they were all met together, all walked together, when they came to the bridegrooms's house, five of them were wise and five were foolish. No," says the Enemy and unbelief, "you see you are nothing but carnal, you have no life, nothing at all but an empty name."
This brings the soul almost to a stand. But there is one thing that stirs him up, and that is, that the "little one" can go and cry to his Father. One thing you see with little sucklings and babes is that they will talk to their parents. The babe knows his parent, and therefore he can tell him what he feels, and make known that he has a want; it makes its wants known in "cries and tears." The mother and the father, when the child begins to cry, say, "What is the matter with the child?" Everything must be left for it, and there is watching and nursing of the child, and all possible care is taken of it; for it goes to the parents' hearts to hear the crying of the young child. It has taken this effect upon them, when they have heard their own child in distress. This is just how it is with our Infinite Father, when the Devil comes in, and they begin to think that they shall perish at last. Their souls go out to God, anxiously inquiring, "Where am I? What am I? Am I nothing but an empty professor? Am I nothing but a hypocrite? Oh, search me! Oh, try me! Oh, reveal Thyself in my heart! Oh, 'lead me in the way everlasting!'" This is the cry of a child to a Father, my friends; for these are children at the right hand, and they all go to the Lord as unto a kind Father. But when they are under the righteous law of God they cannot call him Father; they dare not call him Father when they are in the midst of their distress. They dare not do it, they are afraid it is presumption; they never can do that cheerfully and blessedly till He calls them children. Oh, how sweet when the soul can say, "Father," and He condescends to call them children! How they go to God with all their cares and troubles, just like little children, for Him to decide everything for them!
It is of no use going to the rest of the brethren to decide the matter. Some will run here and there with their trouble, to this minister and to that; and some of God's children are quite wearied out in this way, for they find there is nothing but a dry breast for them anywhere, let them go wherever they will. They go about where they think there is a godly man, and state their feelings, and ask him what he thinks about it. "Well," he says, "I really believe it is the work of God, and I think the Lord will appear for you; for there is evidently a hungering and thirsting, and they that 'hunger and thirst after righteousness shall be filled.'" (Matt. 5:6) He tells the soul to wait and to watch. Why, the man can do no more! He cannot bring the witnessing Spirit home to the sinner's heart: "It is the Spirit that beareth witness with our spirits that we are the children of God." (Rom. 8:16) And therefore the soul goes away a little encouraged, and, perhaps, gets a little hope. Then by and by something comes to his mind, and he says, "How can they tell whether I am one?" Here he comes to see his unworthiness, and he is obliged to go to God as a child. God is determined that He will have His children to find that they can derive no solid comfort but from Him.
III. Then these "little ones" perhaps think and fear how it will be with them at the last. But the Lord says, "Even so, it is not your Father's will that one of these little ones should perish." (Matt. 18:14) No your Father's will--your Father's will. Bless His precious and dear name, when He reveals it to our hearts that He is our Father. "It is not his will that one of these little ones should perish." Well, if it is not His will that they should perish, it is His will that they should go to glory. Not one of them, not the feeblest, nor the weakest, the emptiest, nor the vilest of all His little flock, it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." (Luke 12:32) The kingdom of God is for none else. The proud, lofty professor of religion, who boasts of his talents and of his judgment, God despises, for all this boasting is only a bandaging up for hell. No one will ever enter heaven who has not a broken heart. The poor soul that is little in his own eyes is blessed: for "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Theirs is the kingdom. Heaven is for all God's Church; and His justice, His mercy, and His love, His promises, His oath, His faithfulness, and every part of His glory surround these "little ones." God will take away every tear and every distress; and He says, "I will be round about them as a wall of fire, and the glory in the midst of them." (Zech. 2:5) It is not the will of His Father that "one of these little ones should perish," but they shall be for ever "saved with an everlasting salvation," (Isa. 45:17) and shall no more be confounded, world without end.