Matt 18:3-4 – “3 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. 4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.“
Christ said one does not enter into heaven unless they become as a child. Very serious! But what does that mean?
Puritan Thomas Manton gives what I believe is an insightful examination of this, based on Psalm 131, the full text of which you can read here:
1 Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.
2 Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child.
3 Let Israel hope in the Lord from henceforth and for ever.
From Thomas Manton:
1. As a child. A child is not troubled with ambitious thoughts: Mat. xviii. 3, ‘Except ye be converted, and become as little children,’ etc. A little child knoweth not what striving for state [status] meaneth. The inclinations and desires of carnal ambition are very contrary to the christian temper, namely, seeking after dominions, dignities, and honours.
So Christ would confute his disciples’ pride; as if he had said, You strive for worldly greatness and preeminence in my kingdom; but my kingdom is a kingdom of babes, and containeth none but the humble, and such as are little in their own eyes, and are contented to be small and despised in the eyes of others, and to look not after great matters in the world. Thus would Christ take them off from the vain ambition and pursuit of esteem and worldly honour, and the expectations of a carnal kingdom.
And is it not necessary still that we should become as little children? A great part of the work of grace is to take down our pride, and make us little in our own eyes. We should all prove ourselves to be children of God by the lowliness of our hearts and sobriety of our carriage, and submission to all God’s dispensations, and desire no higher condition than God would bring us into by the fair invitation of his providence. We must put ourselves into the posture of a feeble impotent child, without ambition, without covetousness, looking wholly to be directed, supported, and enabled by God.
2. Why as a weaned child.
Oh, that a christian were as soon weaned from the world, and might grow dead to the honours, riches, and pleasures of it! and could say with the apostle, ‘I am crucified to the world, and the world is crucified to me,’ Gal. vi. 14.
Few are taken off from the dug [udder, teat] by the bitterest wormwood that can be laid upon it; they are still sucking here, though they suck but wind; and, after many disappointments, still return to the love of the world, as their natural milk. It is a prodigy for a child to keep sucking till thirteen or fourteen years; we are as greedy at fifty or sixty years as we were before. The world by nature is sweet to us; the bitterness of affliction doth not wean us from it; and after all the warnings that we cannot love the Father if we love the world, 1 John ii. 15, yet we love the world still. In death it is made bitter to us, for then the world passeth away, and the lusts [desires] thereof; then we cry out on the world, how it hath deceived us, and tempted this rebelling flesh to neglect God and higher duties. But then it is questionable whether we are weaned or driven from the dug [udder, teat]. Surely it becometh us to be weaned sooner.
[2.] The weaned child can do nothing for itself, but is provided for by the care of another; so should we look upon ourselves as a most feeble and impotent child, able to do nothing of ourselves; but after we have weaned ourselves from our natural affections and desires, wholly be sensible of our necessities, emptiness, and weakness to shift [move, even slightly] for ourselves, leaving all to God: Ps. xl. 17, ‘I am poor and needy, but the Lord thinketh upon me.’ We may be despised of the world and contemned of the world, but that doth not make us loathsome to God. Yea, the lower we are brought, the more is his care engaged for us. The empty, the destitute, who have not the dug [udder, teat] to live upon, are devolved upon the Lord, that he may take care of them.
[3.] Though the weaned child have not what it would have, or what it naturally most desireth, the milk of the breast, yet it is contented with what the mother giveth; it rests upon her love and provision. So are we to be content with what providence alloweth us: Heb. xiii. 5, ‘Let your conversation [behavior/life] be without covetousness, and be content with such things as ye have;’ and Phil. iv. 11, ‘I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.’ Whatever pleaseth our heavenly Father should please us.
The child that is put from the breast to an harder diet is yet contented at last. The children of princes know not what the swelling of pride, the honour of the world meaneth. The child doth not prescribe what it will eat, drink, or put on. They are in no care for enlarging possessions, heaping up riches, aspiring after dignities and honours, but meekly take what is provided for them.
[4.] The child, when he has lost the food which nature provideth for it, is not solicitous, but wholly referreth itself to the mother, hangeth upon the mother. So for everything whatsoever should we depend upon God, refer ourselves to God, and expect all things from him: Ps. lxii. 5, ‘My soul, wait thou upon God; my expectation is from him.’ With such a simplicity of submission should we rest and depend upon God.
Let us take heed of being overwise and provident for ourselves, but trust our Father which is in heaven, and refer ourselves to his wise and holy government.
Thus you see here is a perfect emblem –
(1.) Of self-denial; for the child is weaned, taken off from what it most affects [fancies]. So we must not look to be satisfied in our childish will and appetite; we must be weaned, and put from the breast to an harder diet.
(2.) Of humility, or a sense of our impotency and nothingness; for the child cannot shift for itself, so neither can we. We are weak and witless all of us, as are little children, and know not what is good for us, nor how to provide it, but are merely cast upon the care of another.
(3.) Contentedness and resignation to the will of God, who is our provider. The more impotent, the more entitled to God’s care.
(4.) Of dependence and quiet recumbency [leaning/resting] on God in any state or condition whatsoever; for we must cast the whole care of affairs upon him.
Oh, happy we if we could thus be children!
May God grant us this child-like humility; may He wean us from and change our desires for the dainties of Vanity Fair — the useless and time-wasting (Eph 5:16) carnal and sense-driven pleasures and riches of the world; and may He grant us resignation, contentedness, thankfulness and trust in Him for how He providentially brings our lives forth during our time here.
Ps 73:25-26 – “25 Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. 26 My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.“
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face;
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.
If you’re interesting in going deeper on this, we invite you to go through some series we’ve recorded on YouTube during our holy reading times on Lord’s days:
- Thomas Manton, A Treatise on Self-Denial
- Jeremiah Burroughs, A Treatise on Earthly Mindedness, A Heavenly Conversation & Of Walking With God