It was Jesus Himself Who 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 the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.” Matthew 18:3, 4, 5.
These words were spoken in answer to the question of the disciples, “Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
Man, therefore, should beware lest he corrupt this truth by his inherent tendency to put himself before God in our salvation by teaching a conversion that takes place outside of the kingdom, and that is the prerequisite for entrance. But he should also take heed and be on his guard lest, in his fight for the glory of God and insistence that God is the Alpha of our salvation as well as of our creation, he lose the main thrust of the text and the practical beauty of it.
We need not deal at length with the argument that the text can grammatically be read correctly by the words, “Except a man convert himself. . . .” The text does not merely say that we must convert ourselves but also that we must become as little children. And no man makes himself a little child or as a little child by his own works and initiative. A child is born according to the will of others and by the work of others. He is not in this world to cause his own birth but is born into this world. And we are not in a position spiritually to cause ourselves to enter into the kingdom of heaven by an act performed outside of that kingdom, but are born in it; and then we can in that kingdom convert ourselves. Until and unless the life of that kingdom is already in us we cannot convert ourselves and humble ourselves as little children.
Then, too, we have those other words of Jesus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3. The word here actually is “be born from above” and means “again” only because we have once been born from below. It means, therefore, that except a man be born with life from out of that kingdom of heaven he cannot see the kingdom of heaven. And if he cannot see it, how can he then convert himself according to its way of life and walk? How shall one who cannot see the kingdom and its children humble himself after the pattern of these children? How can the blind imitate the actions of whom he cannot observe in his antics? How shall he who has not yet the spiritual life of that kingdom do the spiritual acts of that kingdom? Before the rebirth we do only the works of the old life. And Jesus does not mean to contradict Himself or spout forth nonsense in regard to the works of His kingdom.
We do wish to deal with the matter of a conscious entering into that kingdom in the way of converting ourselves and of becoming as little children. For we have seen such childlike faith; and it was pleasant to behold. Thus far we have spent over five weeks on the island of Jamaica and have preached in fifteen churches from the eastern to the western end of the island. In several of these churches we conducted services more than once. And it is the distance involved that limited us thus far to preach no more often than four times a week, twice on Sunday and once on Wednesday evening and once on Thursday evening. The very closest church to our somewhat centralized location in Montego Bay is an hour’s drive over the mountains. Last week Sunday, July 28, we left at 6 in the morning for a river baptism at Hope Hill at 8 o’clock that morning. Then followed a climb by foot—we had already made B very steep ascent with the car as far as the car could go—that lasted from 20 to 30 minutes. For the ladies it was an unforgettable climb after an impressive baptism by immersion of nine young people ranging in age from fourteen years upward. The sermon was not delivered till after twelve o’clock; and we did not get back to our car for a light lunch until after 2 P.M. We then traveled back somewhat in the direction of “home” and had an evening service at Belmont and arrived “home” a little after ten to have our “evening” meal. Food is not the big problem on a day like that, however. It is water or liquid of some kind. But we do find it difficult to tear ourselves away from the people even when we have hunger and thirst for material bread and water. There is a childlike faith manifested, and this year we have enjoyed so much more personal, direct, intimate contact with the people than before, because our schedule allowed more without the regularly conducted courses of last year. There is fruit to be seen upon that “schooling” which we conducted and we still believe it was essential and beneficial. But it is so rewarding and pleasant also to mingle with the people of these three ministers to the greater degree that this year afforded.
Rather than to go into detail in regard to the many, many experiences which were ours, let us point out one of them which occasioned the penning of the title above. That these are sincere children of God we want you to believe. That they are thoroughly Protestant Reformed and understand in any great detail the Reformed Faith we would not dare to say. They have tasted it. They have reacted to it with gladness and have asked for more. There is much work to be done here and a big field in which to work. That we believe. It is their Sunday School method and attendance to which we refer at the moment. Sunday School is attended by young and old. Little children from five years upward and aged grandfathers and grandmothers sit together while the lesson is being explained. Now you must appreciate the fact that most of the older people have never had the opportunity to learn to read or to write. They are cut off from the Bible as the written Word of God as far as having it in their homes for reading, study and reference is concerned. But they are not too proud to be taught that Word, and they have keen minds for remembering it. We have a tape of one of the sessions which we may be able to play at home, the Lord willing, after our return. But it is the old and time tested method of repetition. The text and where it is found is repeated over and over and over again until it is fixed in the minds of the little ones who cannot read yet, and in the minds of the elder pupils who must have it read to them.
The thought struck us of a childlike faith when at one Sunday School the chapter of the Sunday School lesson was read by the pupils. Each child in turn read his verse. When an adult—perhaps well in the seventies (although ages deceive you among these Jamaicans, and we visited a lady over 100 years old who certainly did not look that old)—who could not read was next, he was not passed by. The Word of God is also for him. And so the ministers, in this case Rev. Ruddock, read the verse for him, and in childlike faith that wanted to enter into the mysteries and joys of the kingdom he then recited aloud the verse read as his contribution to the reading of the chapter. This was done time and again by others.
We can have our pride which keeps us away from the services because we do not want others to see that we cannot read. Our pride can insist that we will not take a back seat for children some fifty years younger than we. But a childlike faith is interested in the kingdom and has the desire to learn more of the Word of God—and do not forget that this is the only way that they can have that contact with God’s Word and can get it written into their souls.
Incidentally this is one of the problems here also in the preaching. The limited knowledge of what God’s Word contains, the ignorance of the history of God’s Church from Paradise to the journies of the apostle Paul make it difficult. We are reminded of the words of the apostle himself, and also of what the author of the epistle to the Hebrews wrote. These are truly children of God who need milk and are not ready for the most part for the meat. And they need the sincere milk of the word as new born babes. I Peter 2:2. There is need for us to come to them to give them that milk. Although the poor seldom get a drop of cow’s milk to drink, they can get plenty of spiritual milk that is corrupt, adulterated and is strong spiritual poison. The lie has been here long before the truth. They have heard the truth from us; and in childlike faith they have received it, even though they do not fully understand it. We have, by God’s grace, been able to give them a richer diet of the truth and to open up to them the mysteries of the kingdom. In childlike faith they have received and not once contradicted us on any point or questioned our teachings. At times it has gone over their heads; and they were not able to chew it and digest it; but from what we have seen, their attitude towards our richer heritage of truth has always been one of childlike faith.
And to come back to Jesus’ words, is that not what He demands? Is the gospel not very simple? We need not become dogmaticians, professors of theology to enter the kingdom. What then of the Israelites who likewise could not read and write? What of the thief on the cross whose education in the mysteries of the kingdom was also very limited, and there were no more days for him to be instructed. It was a childlike faith that made him cry out, after a period of railing with the other—see Matthew 27:44 —”Lord, remember me when Thou comest in Thy kingdom.” Of course we must rightly know God and must not have a childlike faith in a false god. We need to study the Word of God and to gain as rich a conception of Him as we possibly can. We may not be mental slouches. We in this day and age of the printed page and of the full revelation of God in His Word may not despise these gifts and be satisfied with a crumb of the Bread of Life when there is so much more and such richer dainties in the Word for us.
Yet the fact remains that without a childlike faith we shall not enter into the kingdom. We must take God at His Word, as a child without question receives what he is taught. We may not have any mental reservations as far as what God says. We may and often must question what man teaches. But as we said a moment ago, the gospel is very simple. And the cry of the regenerated-for salvation is also very simple and uncomplicated. Peter simply cried out when the waves began to swallow him, “Lord save me!” The publican in Jesus’ parable cried in a very uncomplicated way, “God be merciful to me the sinner.” Paul told the Philippian jailer in simple language, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” And Jesus’ sermons are very simple. His parables are very uncomplicated. And the believers on this island express their faith also in simple language. At the river baptism these young candidates standing in the water gave a word of testimony in simple language of why they desired to be immersed in baptism. The songs of these people express in simple language their childlike trust in God. There is something so refreshing about this simple, childlike approach and trust in God’s promises. And of such is the kingdom of heaven.
There is, therefore, also the urgent need to preach and to teach the truth here. For Arminianism and all free-willism are proud and have not the beginning of a childlike faith. A childlike faith puts God first, depends upon Him for all the things of this life and of salvation and thanks Him for a salvation that is full and free. A childlike faith confesses that God is our Father and that we owe our life from beginning to the end unto Him.