Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield.

Faith and life; 'conferences' in the Oratory of Princeton seminary online

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to say, not only that childlikeness characterizes
the recipients of that Kingdom, but that child-
likeness is the indispensable prerequisite to en-
trance into it. It certainly behoves you and me
who wish to be members of the Kingdom of God
to know what this childlikeness means.

Well, many think at once of the innocence of
childhood. The statement is, in effect they say,
that the Kingdom of God consists solely of those


who are in their moral innocence like children.
Only such can enter it. A grave difficulty at once
faces us, however, when we enunciate this view.
That is that Jesus does not seem elsewhere to
announce innocence as a — as the — condition of
entrance into the Kingdom which He came to
establish. On the contrary, He declared that He
came not to call the righteous, but sinners, and
announced that His mission was to seek and save
what is lost. The publicans and harlots. He tells
us, go into the Kingdom before the righteous
Pharisees. To give point to this we note that in
Luke's narrative the parable of the publican and
pharisee praying in the temple immediately pre-
cedes the account of our present incident, and is
placed there evidently because of the affinity of
the two narratives. It would read exceedingly
oddly if the publican was justified and the phar-
isee, with all his righteousness, rejected, and im-
mediately afterwards it were asserted that the
Elngdom was solely for the innocent. No, there
is nothing clearer than that Jesus' mission was
specifically to those who were not innocent — that
it is characteristic of those who enter His Kingdom
that they do not feel innocent — that, in a word,
the Kingdom is built up from and by the "chief
of sinners" like Paul, and those who say of them-
selves that "if any man say he hath no sin he is a
liar, and the truth is not in him," like John. Not
the "righteous" but "sinners" Jesus came to save.


Remembering the pharisee and publican, shall
we not say, then, that the trait of childhood here
celebrated is, if not exactly innocence, at least
humility? It was precisely humility that char-
acterized the prayer of the publican and our
Lord elsewhere commends humility as in some
sense the primary Christian grace. "Blessed,"
He says in that first beatitude, which we have
already cited, "blessed are the poor in spirit, for
theirs — of them — is the Kingdom of heaven."
Is not this an express parallel to our present pas-
sage, saying in plain words what is here said in
figure.'^ When we read, then, that the Kingdom
of heaven belongs to those who are childlike, and
only he can enter it who receives it as a child — is
not the very thing meant, that none but the
humble-minded, the poor in spirit, can possess
the Kingdom? Indeed, is not this very thing
spoken out in so many words in a closely related
previous incident when Jesus took a child and set
it among His disciples, as they were disputing
as to who should be greatest, and bade them to
humble themselves and become as that little
child if they would be great m the Kingdom of
heaven — enforcing the lesson moreover with a
declaration almost the sa,me as that of the text:
"Verily I say unto you, Except ye turn and be-
come as little children, ye shall in no wise enter
into the Kingdom of heaven"? It certainly
seems as if in that passage at least the humility


of little children is just the thing signalized, and
entrance into the Kingdom is hung on the pos-
session of that specific virtue.

Even in that passage, however, it may be well
to move warily. Is humility the special charac-
teristic of childhood? To become like a child
may certainly be an act of humility in one not a
child, and it is very intelligible that our Lord
should, therefore, tell those whom He was ex-
horting to become like a child that they can only
do it by humbling themselves. But is that quite
the same as saying that humility is the charac-
teristic virtue of childhood, or that a humble
spirit is the precedent condition of entering the
Kingdom of heaven .^^ We seem to be in danger of
reading the passage too superficially. Our Lord
tells His disciples that they cannot enter the
Kingdom which He came to found except they
turn and become like little children; and He tells
them that they cannot become like little children
except by humbling themselves, and, therefore,
that when they were quarrelling about greatness
they were not "turning and becoming like little
children." But He does not seem to tell them
that humility of heart is the characterizing quality
of childlikeness; in this statement it is rather the
pathw^ay over which we must tread to attain
something else which is the characterizing quality
of childlikeness. Childlikeness is one thing; that
by which that state is attained is another.


Much less is humility suggested to us in our
present passage as the constitutive fact of child-
likeness. These babies that Jesus took into His
arms, in what sense were they lowly minded, and
the types of humility of soul? If they were like
other children of their age, they were probably,
so far as they showed moral characteristics at all,
little egotists. There is no period of life so
purely, sharply, unrelievedly egotistic as infancy;
and there is, consequently, no period of life less
adapted to stand as the typical form of that
lowliness of mind which seeks another's, not one's
own, good.

Others have gone further and I think done bet-
ter, therefore, when they have suggested that it is
the simplicity of childhood, its artlessness and
ingenuousness, which is the trait which our Lord
intends when He declares that the Kingdom of
Heaven is made up "of such" as they, and that
no one who does not receive that Kingdom like a
child — that is, in childlike simplicity and ingen-
uousness — shall enter into it. Above everything
else the mental life of a child is characterized,
perhaps, by directness. It lacks the sinuosities,
double motives, complications, of the adult in-
telligence. The child does not think of "serving
two masters," but gives itself altogether to one
thing or the other, and possesses at least the
single purpose if not always that precise single-
ness of eye which our Lord commends. We know


what an encomium our Saviour passed on that
singleness of eye because of which the whole body
should be full of light; and what an echo of this
teaching His apostles sound in the praise of that
singleness of heart or simplicity of soul in which
they make the Christian disposition to consist.
May it not, then, be this lack of duplicity in
thought and feeling, this clear simplicity of heart
which results in singleness of devotion, that our
Lord declares here to be characteristic of child-
hood and of those spiritual children who alone
may be true disciples?

This is a very attractive idea; but attractive as
the idea is, it seems a little artificial and not easily
deducible from the passage itself. It might fit
very well in the eighteenth chapter of Matthew —
and, indeed, would give a far better sense there
than the conception of humility; but it seems to
be outside the scope of our present passage.
These children were mere babies — and in what
clear and outstanding sense are babies charac-
terized by simplicity of heart and singleness of

We feel, then, that a great step is taken when
others step in and suggest that the particular
trait which our Saviour has in mind when He de-
clares that only the childlike can enter His King-
dom is the trustfulness of the child. Here we
touch, indeed, what seems really the fundamental
trait of the truly childish mind, that colors all its


moral life, and constitutes, not merely its dominant
but we might almost say, its entire disposition —
implicit trustfulness. The age of childhood is,
above everything else, the age of trust. De-
pendent upon its elders for everything, the whole
nature of the child is keyed to trust; on trust it
lives, and by means of trust it finds all its means of
existence. Its virtues and its faults alike grow
out of trust as its fundamental characteristic.
There is no picture of perfect and simple and im-
plicit trust discoverable in all the world com-
parable to the picture of the infant lying peace-
fully and serenel}^ on its mother's bosom. And
we must remember that this is the spectacle that
our Lord had before Him. The mothers were
bringing their babies to Him to be blessed; He
looked at them as they approached; and, observ-
ing the utter trustfulness of the attitude of the
child reclining in the nest of its mother's arms.
He announced that here is the type of the King-
dom of God and of its children. In these trust-
ing babies He saw the symbol of the citizens
of His Kingdom. "Of such as these," He de-
clared, *'is the Kingdom of God"; and then He
added that no man who did not receive the King-
dom like one of these little trustful babies, could
even enter it. Trust, simple, utter trust, that is
the pathway to the Kingdom.

We cannot doubt that in thus directing its
attention to the trustfulness of little children


as their characteristic trait, the mind has been
turned in the right direction for the proper un-
derstanding of our Lord's declaration. But even
yet, I think, we have scarcely reached the bot-
tom fact. You will observe that all the supposi-
tions hitherto made move in the subjective sphere.
Dispositions of mind alone have been suggested;
men have been seeking to discover the disposi-
tion of mind which is most characteristic of child-
hood; to which we may suppose, therefore, that
our Saviour, referred, when He declared that His
disciples must be like children if they would enter
His Kingdom. But our passage says nothing
of dispositions of mind; and why should we.^^

Why not seek an objective characteristic here?
These babies, which Christ took in His arms —
what dispositions of mind had they.^^ We must
now revert to the narrative, and observe with
care that these children were, in point of fact,
mere babies. Perhaps we have been thinking of
them rather as well-grown children, and picturing
them as standing around our Lord's knees, giving
Him eager, if wondering attention, as He spoke to
them. Nothing of the kind. They were babies
in arms, perhaps of only a few weeks or months
old, perhaps of only a few days. TJiey had no
disposition of mind. Luke calls them distinctly
infants, and speaks, therefore, of their being
brought as remarkable: "They were bringing to
Him even their babies." And that is the reason


why the disciples rebuked their parents for bring-
ing them — mere babies who could get nothing
from the Master. The same thing is less clearly
but equally really suggested in the other narra-
tives; we read that they were brought; that
Jesus took them in His arms, and the like. We
must think of them, then, as distinctively babies.
What dispositions of soul were characteristic of
them.^ Just none at all. They lay happy and
thoughtless in their mother's arms and in Jesus'
own arms. Their characteristic was just helpless
dependence; complete dependence upon the care
of those whose care for them was necessary.
And it would seem that it is just this objective
helpless dependence which is the point of com-
parison between them and the children of the

What our Lord would seem to say, then, when
He says: "Of such is the Kingdom of heaven," is
that the Kingdom of heaven is made up of those
who are helplessly dependent on the King of the
Heavens. And when He adds that only those
who "receive" the Kingdom like a child can
enter into it He seems to mean that the chil-
dren of the Kingdom come into it hke chil-
dren of the world into the world — naked and
stripped of everything, infants who are to be
done for, who can not do for themselves.
There is every indication of this as our Lord's
meaning. Among others we note that the rec-


ord of the incident is followed immediately in
all three Gospels by the record of the incident
of the rich young man — which goes on, you see,
to illustrate the same idea. For what was the
trouble with the rich young man? Just this:
that he could not divest himself of everything and
come into the Kingdom naked. "He had great
possessions." "How hard, children," — this "chil-
dren" is possibly a reminiscence of His demand
that they should be "like children" — "children,
how hard it is for a rich man — or for anyone — to
enter the Kingdom of heaven." Into this King-
dom we can enter only as poor and naked and
helpless as children enter the world. That we
have nothing is the condition that we may have
all things. Perhaps it may not be too much even
to say that what the passage teaches is that we
enter the Kingdom of heaven as we enter the
world only by a birth — a birth which comes to us
— which we do not secure. In that case we have a
parallel passage in the third chapter of John which
is one of the very few passages in John where the
term "Kingdom of God" occurs.

The upshot of it all is, then, this: that the
Kingdom of God is not taken — acquired — laid
hold of; it is just "received." It comes to men,
men do not come to it. And when it comes to
men, they merely "receive" it, "as" — "like" —
"a Httle child." That is to say, they bring noth-
ing to it and have nothing to recommend them to


it except their helplessness. They depend wholly
on the King. Only they who so receive it can
enter it; no disposition or act of their own com-
mends them to it. Accordingly the Kingdom of
God is "of such as little children." The helpless
babe on the mother's breast, then, now we can
say it with new meaning, is the true type of the
Christian in his relation to God. It is of the
very essence of salvation that it is supernatural.
It is purely a gift, a gift of God's; and they who
receive it must receive it purely as a gift. He
who will not humble himself and enter it as a
little child enters the world, in utter nakedness
and complete dependence, shall never see it.


John 1:1: — "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was
with God, and the Word was God."

The first verse of the Gospel of John contains
one of the most weighty statements of the deity
of our Lord in the New Testament. It is not
the only weighty statement, much less the only
distinct statement, of the deity of our Lord in
the New Testament. Rather, the whole New
Testament is a testimony to our Lord's deity;
and we can read no part of it sympathetically
without catching this note sounding through it.

Particularly we need to disabuse our minds of
the banality by which the Synoptic Gospels used
to be distinguished as the Gospels of the human
Jesus, from the Gospel of John as the Gospel of
the Divine Jesus. The Synoptic Gospels teach
the deity of Jesus as truly and, indeed, as em-
phatically as the Gospel of John, though not in
precisely the same manner. Whatever else
William Wrede did or did not do with his book on
the Gospel of Mark, he made it impossible for-
ever afterwards to look upon Mark as a naive col-
lection of all that His followers could recall of the
human Jesus; and Johannes Weiss will not be
gainsaid when he points out that the Jesus of "the



oldest Gospel" has already advanced far toward
the Jesus of the latest Gospel. He is to be crit-
icized only for speaking of an "advance" in this
connexion, and of that *' advance" as not
quite complete. Recent critics are fairly falling
over one another in their rush to recognize that
the conception of a Divine Messiah was not only
Primitive-Christian, but Pre-Christian, and that
belief in the deity of Jesus, was, therefore, al-
ready included in acceptance of Him as Messiah.
We meet no new thing, then, when we read in
the first verse of John's Gospel a crisp declara-
tion that Jesus is God. But we do meet some-
thing new in the manner in which this declaration
is made. It would not be quite exact to say that
it is new that John begins his Gospel with a dec-
laration of the deity of Jesus. Mark also begins
his Gospel with a declaration of the deity of Jesus;
if, at least, the reading is right which makes him
use the term, "the Son of God," in his opening
sentence — "The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus
Christ, the Son of God." It can hardly be main-
tained that the "Son of God" is not to be under-
stood here in its ontological sense. The differ-
ence between the Synoptics and John here is only
a difference in what we may call their mode of
approach to the common theme. It would not
be misleadingly expressed if we said that in the
Synoptics the divine nature of the man Jesus is
exhibited, while in John the human life of the


divine Word is portrayed. In this sense, John
does take his start from the deity of our Lord as
the Synoptics do not. The deity of our Lord is
made by John his point of departure in his dehnea-
tion of this divine hfe in the world, while the Syn-
optics take their start from the birth of Jesus,
or the opening of his public ministry.

It is due to this difference that John's Gospel
alone opens with a prologue, which takes us back
at once into the depths of Eternal Reality, and
tells us who and what that being actually was,
whose life-history in the world is about to be
depicted. There is probably no more pregnant
piece of writing in the world than this prologue to
John's Gospel. And there is no part of this preg-
nant prologue more pregnant than its first verse.
There are just seventeen words in it; we can
count only eight different words in it: but these
few words are simply bursting with significance.
In the first place, our Lord is designated here
by a unique name, and that a name big with
meaning. And then, under this unique name,
three declarations are calmly made of Him — so
calmly as almost to betray us into taking them as
mere matters of course — each of which, separately
considered, is of tremendous import, and the three
together, in combination, of more tremendous
import still. When we have read these three
limpid sentences — *'In the beginning was the
Word, and the Word was with God, and the


Word was God" — we have read things which
even the angels, desiring to look into them, might
well despair of plumbing.

When we say that the name given here to our
Lord — the "Word" — is unique, we have, of
course, the New Testament only in mind. And
even so, to be absolutely exact, we must note
that John repeats it a little lower down in this
prologue, when he tells us of this Word, here de-
clared to have been in the beginning, with God,
and Himself God, that he became flesh; and in-
deed echoes it in the opening words of his first
Epistle and in a splendid description of the con-
quering Christ in the Apocalypse. These in-
stances, however, do not abate the fact that this
designation belongs in a very special sense to
these opening clauses of John's prologue. There
is nothing to prepare us for it here: it just sud-
denly appears before us in these three great dec-
larations in unrelieved startlingness. And per-
haps the most striking thing about it is that John
does not present it to us as a mysterious designa-
tion of Jesus, as a remarkable designation of Him,
or, we must add, even as a new designation of
Him. He employs it quite simply and without
apparent consciousness that he is doing anything
either startling or new.

That it is not a new designation of our Lord to
either John or to his readers, is already apparent
from the fact that no emphasis falls on it what-


ever. It occurs three times, it is true, in these
three short clauses. But the words are so ar-
ranged that the emphasis is always thrown else-
where — on what is asserted of the Word, not on
the designation itself — while the designation ap-
pears as a matter of course. And the employ-
ment of the same designation in the opening
words of the contemporaneous First Epistle of
John is a clear proof that it was not first applied
to our Lord in this prologue. We must dismiss
from our minds, therefore, the fancy that John
invented the designation, "The Word," for our
Lord. We must suppose it to have been a current
designation of our Lord in the circles for which
John was writing, and that it needed no explana-
tion from him of its meaning.

Whence the term came, and precisely what
it means when applied to Jesus, are, of course,
another matter. We cannot talk of its being
borrowed from Philo, or from the philosophy
which Philo represents. There is nothing more
certain than that John does not use it in the
sense which it bears in Philo, or in the philosophy
which lies behind Philo. It is not much more
likely that it was borrowed directly from the
native Jewish speculations, which, like the specu-
lations of Philo and those whom he most closely
followed, are governed by the need for something
to mediate between the transcendent God and
the world of space and time. But this general


type of thinking was very widely diffused, and
the modes of speech which it developed naturally
penetrated, in more or less modified meanings,
much more deeply into the life and language
of the people than the conceptions these modes of
speech were invented to express. All terms
of this sort have their roots in some system
of thought, but come to those who ultimately em-
ploy them with a varied history behind them, in
the course of which they have lost much of the
shades of suggestion with which they started, and
have picked up others on the way. We have no
safe guidance to their meaning on the lips of any
given speaker, except his actual usage of them.
And to judge by John's actual usage of the term,
"the Word," applied as a designation to our Lord,
it has travelled far indeed from its Neo-Stoic or
Philonian beginnings — if those were its begin-
nings — ^before it reached his hands. What he
means by it is obviously so different from what
Philo or the Neo-Stoics meant by it, that, in most
important respects, it is its precise contradiction.
What is clearest about it is that he uses it as a
designation of Jesus of the highest import, as
attributing to Him properly divine functions, if
not directly a properly divine nature. As a man's
word is the expression of his being, so, when Jesus
is spoken of as the Word by way of eminence, that
is, as the Word of God, He is designated as the
manifested God.


Speaking thus of Jesus by this great designation,
John makes three assertions concerning Him,
In the first of these he declares His eternal sub-
sistence. In the second, His eternal intercom-
munion with God. In the third, His eternal
identity with God. Let us look briefly at these
three great assertions in turn.

The first of them runs in our English version
thus: "In the beginning was the Word." This
rendering, however, scarcely brings out its full
sense. The words are so ordered in the original
as to throw all the emphasis — and it is a strong
emphasis — on the words, "in the beginning," and
"was." The verb "was," in other words, is not a
mere copula, but a strong assertion of existence.
We might perhaps bring part of its meaning out
by changing the order of the words and reading:
"In the beginning the Word was.'* What is de-
clared is that "in the beginning" — not "from the
beginning" but "in the beginning," — when first
things began to be, the Word, not came into being,
so that He might be the first of those things which
came into being, but already was. Absolute eter-
nity of being is asserted for the Word in as pre-
cise and as strong language as absolute eternity of
being can be asserted. The Word antedates the
beginning of things; He already was — the imper-
fect of continuous existence — when things began
to be. Go back now to the first verse of Genesis,
of which there is an obvious echo here, and read


that in the beginning God created the heavens
and the earth — the Hebrew periphrasis for the
universe. The Word already was before God
thus began to speak things into existence. We
cannot be surprised, then, to read in the next
verse, with the emphasis of accumulated asser-
tion, that "all things" without exception "were
made by Him, and apart from Him there was not
one thing made which has been made." The

Online LibraryBenjamin Breckinridge WarfieldFaith and life; 'conferences' in the Oratory of Princeton seminary → online text (page 5 of 27)