Both Small and Great
John Heading, Aberystwyth
It is the privilege of believers to engage in much varied spiritual activity according to the precept and example of the New Testament. But at what stage of their spiritual growth do believers start to take spiritual things reverently, seriously, intelligently and objectively? To answer this, we may consider various applications of the phrase “ small and great” scattered throughout the Scriptures. Some uses of the phrase imply distinction in rank; it is also used idiomatically for “everyone”. We shall consider it as speaking of both younger and older believers.
1. Blessings Prepared for those who Fear and Praise
The hymn “Count your blessings, count them one by one” is often sung, but would we find it difficult to describe intelligently and sincerely even one? We have been blessed with “all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ”, Eph. 1. 3; this verse shows that there is nothing missing in the spiritual make-up of even a young believer. Do these great possessions cause us to praise the Lord who has so freely bestowed them upon us? Psalm 115. 17 recalls that “the dead praise not the Lord”; this is the present state of those who are dead in trespasses and in sins, Eph. 2. 2. But by contrast, the Psalm continues, “He will bless them that fear the Lord,, both small and great”, v. 13. This should then lead to younger believers praising and blessing the Lord in return, v. 18, “from this time forth and for evermore”. What a test of salvation this is, for both small and great, to see if we have praising hearts for blessings received. For the reception of such blessing changes souls; the Lord blessed children in His arms, Mark 10.16, but could they be the same afterwards?
2. Feeding on the Word
The Lord in Luke 2. 42-50 at the age of twelve manifesting spiritual understanding is regarded as exceptional. But should this be so? Some young believers say “let the older ones study the Bible and its eternal truth, while we content ourselves with the study of mere temporal things. A flick over a Bible page is enough for a day”. Yet even a babe will partake sufficiently of suitable food! And similarly a born-again soul will partake of the Word of God (i) as a matter of necessity to satisfy desire, and (ii) as the only suitable food for a spiritual life.
For example, in king Josiah’s restoration, he read to “all the people, both small and great”, 2 Kings 23. 2, the words of the book found in the house of the Lord. The ability to “understand” was all that mattered, Neh. 8. 3. Using only the Word of God, Josiah led both young and old to throw away the relics of false ideas and religion. None was exempt. Today, we are surrounded by religious ceremony and practices of every kind, both traditional and modern, but only the Word of God will preserve young people from such influences. God expects believers to use the Word for preservation and for correction, and at the same time He expects mature believers to provide care for the younger ones in this direction. King Hezekiah arranged for food to be distributed “as well to the great as to the small”, 2 Chron. 31. 15, and that from three years old and upward. This maintained them in the service of God, else there had been spiritual starvation. The Lord Jesus would have even the babes filled with revealed truth, Matt. 11. 25.
3. Evil Kept out
God holds young believers responsible to keep sin out of their lives, so they must be able to discern what is contrary to His holy character. The question is asked, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way”, and the answer is given, “by taking heed thereto according to thy word”, Ps. 119. 9. In the temple economy in the Old Testament, David arranged those known as “porters” in the house of God; “as well the small as the great", 1 Chron. 26.13, were included in the arrangement. One of their chief functions was to ensure that nothing unclean should enter into the house, 2 Chron. 23. 19. Today, we are temples of the Holy Spirit, 1 Cor. 6. 19, and thus young and old are called upon to be porters of our own individual hearts. Are we who are young concerned about this? Only such a “youth” could be an “example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity”, 1 Tim. 4. 12. Corporately, too, our behaviour is seen in “the church of the living God”, 3. 15, and we should exercise care not to bring into its fellowship and service anything that defiles, 1 Cor. 3. 16-17.
4. The Desire to Worship
Worship is not something to be left to the older ones. God expects what He calls a “song” to be found in our hearts, particularly on the Lord’s Day as we gather to break bread. Vacant hearts, open eyes and inattentive minds should have no place in His presence. In the temple, David arranged the service of song, and for this holy task were chosen “as well the small as the great, the teacher as the scholar”, 1 Chron. 25. 8. We may still be scholars in the school of God, but this does not mean that the audible worship of more mature men is all that God expects. The most recently converted young believer can thank and praise God in his heart, and then in due time this may be expressed openly. In Matthew 21. 16, the temple children were crying “Hosanna” in keeping with the word of God, “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise”, Ps. 8. 2.
In the light of these scriptures, those who are younger may examine themselves by asking personally how far they have advanced in the purpose of God for their lives.